NEWARK, N.J. – The media gathering for Russell Wilson was big. Cameras lined up early to get good position. Reporters staked out spots well before he arrived. Wilson drew one of the biggest crowds during the Seahawks’ turn at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day.
It just wasn’t as big as the one for Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
“You have Babe Ruth over there,” said sports marketer Brandon Steiner, “and then this small little nothing from this place on the West Coast.”
Yet Wilson is poised to close the gap between the two. The Super Bowl presents Wilson with another step toward superstardom and the kind of fame and marketing opportunities afforded few players.
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In just two years, he has gone from Seattle’s likely backup quarterback to a player who will likely become a household name and face in the coming year. He will have the chance this week to not only win a Super Bowl but also introduce himself to the massive TV audience that will watch.
“There’s so much competition between the sponsors, and there’s not enough top players to match up with the opportunities,” Steiner said. “And now he gets to be included in the group. He’s going to have more opportunities than he knows what to do with.”
The strange thing is that Wilson is still in some ways under the national radar. Steiner remembers watching the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago from his home in New York and having a strange thought. Is this the first time he’d really heard Wilson give an interview?
“I remember asking myself, ‘Where the hell is this guy from?’ ” Steiner said. “The next thing I did was call up my guy in our licensing division: ‘Go check who’s got him and go check if there are any rights there.’ This kid is on the rise. That was my immediate reaction. We just haven’t seen his name circulate as much.”
As big as Wilson is in Seattle, the rest of the country is far more familiar with his contemporaries — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick.
“He plays in Seattle,” explained Marshall Faulk, a running back turned NFL Network analyst. “People think that’s in Canada.”
Wilson has been the third wheel since he, Luck and Griffin entered the league together two years ago, and it makes sense. Luck will always be a person of interest because he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. Kaepernick and Griffin, meanwhile, enjoy the benefits of either playing on the East Coast or in a larger market.
“More than anything, what this postseason has done for Russell Wilson is allowed him to escape the shadows of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck,” said Darren Heitner, a lawyer and former agent. “Going into the season, it was a two-man show: Who’s going to be the quarterback who emerges from that class? But it was between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin.”
Wilson, Griffin and Luck will be linked throughout their careers. Wilson is aware of that. He is the first of the three to make the Super Bowl.
“I want to be the first one to win it,” Wilson said. “That’s my focus.”
Wilson has already taken advantage of marketing opportunities following a successful rookie season. He appeared in a national ad for American Family Insurance and signed an endorsement deal with Alaska Airlines.
“He’ll have the world in front of him after this,” Heitner said.
One of the interesting story lines is how Wilson will handle the big stage of the Super Bowl. He has not, by comparison with Luck or Griffin, played under intense scrutiny, his every throw and word dissected.
“It’s the biggest moment of his career thus far,” Faulk said. “Can a second-year quarterback make the throws?”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has no doubts that Wilson can handle the pressure and all that comes with the extra attention. Neither do his teammates. But the Super Bowl is different, no matter what anyone says.
In the moments after the NFC Championship Game, on a stage in the middle of the field, Wilson found Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. He leaned in close.
“I’ve got a question for you,” he asked in a video shown on “Inside the NFL.” “What do we need to do to win it, that’s different? What makes you win it?”
“You’ve got to be really cool,” Bradshaw told him. “Don’t let the moment catch up with you. You’ve got to play the game down. If you build it up, it’s so important you’ll screw it up and you won’t play well. It’s not just another game, believe me, but you can make it one. Just be cool.”
“Yes, sir,” Wilson said.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277