Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, despite their obvious differences, have a lot in common. On Sunday, Wilson will try to become the youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls.
PHOENIX — Before the playoffs, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady shared the same thought to a mutual friend. They knew they would meet in Super Bowl XLIX. All great quarterbacks have the gift of anticipation, and the two competitors quietly waited for each other, visualizing the most intriguing matchup of old and new that the NFL can offer.
The evidence lies in the inbox of Kenny Dichter, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Wheels Up, a membership-based private jet company.
“Hey, we’re probably going to play Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Get ready for it.”
“I see us playing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. That’ll be fun.”
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Wilson and Brady don’t know each other well, but through Dichter, they have become email buddies. On Sunday, they’re forced to turn into the rivals they expected to be.
When the Seahawks and New England Patriots play at University of Phoenix Stadium, history and the Lombardi Trophy will be at stake. The Seahawks could become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since the Patriots accomplished it 10 years ago. The Patriots could win their fourth Super Bowl in the 14-year era of Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Both star quarterbacks have individual legacies attached to their teams’ success. Brady can join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls. Wilson, at 26 years and 64 days old, can become the youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls. If he does, he would be faster than Brady, who was 118 days older when he won No. 2.
It’s easy to contrast the quarterbacks. Brady is about 5 inches taller and couldn’t beat a tortoise in a dash around the block. Wilson is the more dynamic athlete and a dual-threat quarterback. Brady is white. Wilson is African-American. Brady is 37 and nearing the end of his career. Wilson is 26 and nearing his prime.
But look past their physical attributes and even the way they play, and Brady and Wilson are similar. In fact, of all the quarterbacks Wilson has been compared with, from Fran Tarkenton to Drew Brees, he is more like Brady than anyone else. Because of Wilson’s early success, his career arc is set up to look similar to Brady’s. Both have squeaky-clean images. Both could have chosen baseball over football. Their presence is similar, as is the manner in which they transcend their sport. Their star power is such that they are the favorite celebrity of many celebrities. Yet they can still be appreciated as underdogs — Wilson is a third-round draft pick, Brady a sixth-rounder — who fought for their stardom and remain grounded.
Wilson is chasing Brady more than any other quarterback.
“I’ve looked up to him since I was a little kid,” Wilson said. “It’s a tremendous honor, a tremendous honor, to be on the same field, to play the great game of football, to play in Super Bowl XLIX. That’s history, and hopefully we can make some history. Hopefully Tom doesn’t play too good. I know he’s one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, and hopefully we’ll find a way to win.”
Super success early
A year ago, Wilson, then 25, became the third-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Only Ben Roethlisberger (23) and Brady (24) were younger. There are two other quarterbacks who won at 25 — Joe Namath and Joe Montana.
Brady, Roethlisberger and Montana all went on to win multiple titles. Namath is the one who didn’t. You need a telescope to find where the expectations for the rest of Wilson’s career have been set.
I remember interviewing a 24-year-old Brady at Disney World after he won his first title. I was a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel then. The quarterback was still in aw-shucks mode.
“Relax, Tom, you’re the MVP!” a fan shouted to a nervous Brady. “You can do no wrong now.”
He received marriage proposals from women that day. One boy offered to trade his sister for an autograph.
Brady smiled and worked the crowd with great humility. At one point, he called winning the Super Bowl “probably my best accomplishment.” I asked about the probably.
“To win a Super Bowl, that’s incredible,” he said. “But to win another one wouldn’t be bad. I still got a lot of years left.”
Thirteen years later, he has won three Super Bowls. But he also has a greater appreciation of what he has accomplished, especially after losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
This is Brady’s sixth Super Bowl, but he says, “I still feel like this is my first.”
How special has Brady’s career been? When the Patriots won their first title 14 years ago, Brady, then 24, was the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback at the time. Now 37, he would be the fourth-oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
The longevity of his career is stunning. It’s a reminder that, despite all that Wilson has accomplished in three years, let’s not worry about how his statue in Canton, Ohio, will look quite yet.
Brady had three championships by age 27. Since then, he has grown from what some considered a game manager (a label Wilson also has endured) to one of the more productive passers in league history. He’s the dominant player that Wilson is becoming.
But 10 years later, Brady is still trying to deliver title No. 4.
Wilson has the chance to achieve just as much as a young NFL player. But if he does, he’ll still have the bulk of a career to play.
“That happened so fast in my life,” Brady said of the early success. “I didn’t really quite understand what was going on. At that time, I was just a young guy.
“When we went early in my career, it wasn’t that I didn’t realize how hard it is. I just think gaining some perspective and experience — we’ve gotten to this point, we just haven’t won this game, so this would be an incredible achievement — you realize, with greater depth, how hard it is to win Super Bowls.”
So different, so alike
Pop star Katy Perry, who is the halftime entertainer Sunday, sent Wilson several text messages recently to ask about performing on the big stage.
“I was asking him about his approach during the game,” Perry said. “I asked him, ‘What do you eat? What fuel do you put in your body to run so fast?’ Because I want that same fuel, whether it is a protein shake, or a Paleo diet.”
Replied Wilson: “Cheeseburgers and pizza.”
Perry shook her head.
“I was like, ‘Great. Just great.’ ”
Brady has become the glamour boy of the league. He is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Last year, he earned $7 million on endorsement deals, second in the NFL to Peyton Manning’s $12 million, representing brands such as Under Armour, UGG and Dodge.
Wilson is well on his way to becoming that kind of endorser. Perry is just one of his megastar friends. He is starting to take more fashion chances, and as a recent divorcee, he is now the highly eligible bachelor that Brady once was.
Their games are different. But beneath the surface, Brady and Wilson are so alike.
You get the feeling, though, that Brady became Brady by accident. He wouldn’t have led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl if starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe hadn’t been injured. When he entered the NFL, Brady had far more doubters than Wilson, who had to prove his 5-foot-11 height wouldn’t be an issue.
Wilson’s success is much more calculated. As a child, he thought about this day in great detail. Since he became a pro, little has felt unnatural to him. He appears more comfortable during Super Bowl week than he was the rest of the season.
“Growing up, my dad and my mom used to always ask me questions, especially my dad,” Wilson said. “He used to always ask me questions. ‘Russell, you just got to the Super Bowl …’ or, ‘You just won Super Bowl MVP …’ All these questions as I was growing up — 7, 10, 15 years old — they prepared me. I went to a great school in Collegiate School (in Richmond, Va.).
“I went to N.C. State for communications, broadcasting, then I went to grad school for business and all that. I’ve just been around great people and great education. My parents taught me about education, how important that was. Also being engaging in certain questions, really being in tune with that — that’s kind of the hardest trick, especially when you’re so focused and wired in on football right now. You have to wire your mind into the next thing that you’re doing.”
Ask Brady about his career, and he says, “I never imagined this in my wildest dreams.” Wilson’s dreams always have been wild. And attainable.
On Sunday, the quarterback considered the great winner of the past decade and a half faces the quarterback whose first three years have him poised to become the next great winner.
Brady faces Wilson.
Brady faces the next Brady.
They could see this coming for weeks.