RENTON — It’s with logic rather than irony that Russell Wilson most looks up to a player he doesn’t have to look up to.
When Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints takes on Wilson’s Seahawks on Monday, it will be a meeting of the entire fraternity of the NFL’s Successful Sub-6-foot Quarterback club.
Wilson has not only admired Brees for years, but he also taped all of Brees’ games to study when he was in college.
He watched his technique and mechanics, but the trait of Brees’ that had the greatest impact on Wilson was the way he stacked up Pro Bowl appearances despite having been saddled with the same “too short” designation that Wilson had dealt with all his career.
Brees was the player Wilson wanted to be when he grew up, mostly because it didn’t take all that much growing.
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas make the easiest comparison between the two when asked Wednesday: “Yeah, they’re very short guys,” said the 5-10 Thomas. “And (they) still find ways to have success.”
It would be expected that Saints coach Sean Payton would answer in the same manner. But he looked past the superficial measurables to the more critical intangibles.
“I think you start with the fact they’re winners,” Payton said in Wednesday teleconferences. “You see someone who is very competitive and who makes good decisions. From afar (Wilson) looks like someone who has great leadership skills and is highly driven.”
They both, he was certain, are fueled by high-octane indignation at lifelong discrimination by size-ists.
“History tells us that real good players at that position come in all shapes and sizes,” Payton said. “Every one of us in personnel meetings look at certain prototypes. Our league has seen very good production from players with different builds and skill sets. (But) it still gets back to that person who is very driven, very competitive and very smart.”
One of the Saints’ receivers, Nick Toon, a former teammate of Wilson at Wisconsin, told Brees how much Wilson admired him. So Brees anticipated meeting Wilson in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl.
“I was waiting for the opportunity to meet him, and sure enough we had that week together at the Pro Bowl,” Brees said. “I couldn’t be more impressed. You could tell the guy loves football. We talked a lot of football and we talked a lot of other stuff, too. He’s a student of the game; he wants to be great, and I think he was soaking it all up.”
Brees said they exchanged phone numbers and have communicated via text “just checking on each other. I think very highly of him, not only as a player but as a person.”
And similarities? Sure, obviously.
“I think if you want to say there’s a lot of similarities, maybe the way we entered this league,” said Brees, an early second-round pick, compared with Wilson going in the third round. “There were question marks about our size, all those things. You find ways to overcome those things when given the opportunity (and) just try to make the most out of that. Certainly, he’s done that.”
Brees, clearly, is a Wilson fan.
“He’s been fun to watch. He’s a great competitor, a great player. The sky’s the limit for a guy like that. Those are the kind of guys you root for. When good things happen to those guys, you say he deserves that; he deserves all the success in the world.”
But Payton and Brees both have been surprised that it’s happened so fast for Wilson.
Brees didn’t make the Pro Bowl until his fourth season, Wilson accomplished that as a rookie. Brees didn’t have a passer rating reach 100 until that fourth season, Wilson did that, too, as a rookie.
That, Payton noted, “certainly is not the norm.”
Brees defied the league’s must-be-this-tall-to-ride standard for quarterbacks, and Wilson was inspired by that. Have they broken the mold?
“Maybe so, you’ll have to ask the scouts,” Brees said. “I never looked at it as an issue, and I’m sure Russell has never looked at it as an issue. There’s so many more important things about playing the quarterback position beside your height.”
Brees listed those things — traits he shares with Wilson: “There’s leadership ability, play-making ability, instinctive things you can’t teach and you can’t tell by watching a guy throw the ball or run a 40-yard dash.”
Or by standing them against a wall next to a tape measure.