Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gets to check another item off his NFL career do-to list Sunday — playing a game at Bills Stadium in Buffalo (or, officially, Orchard Park, New York).
Buffalo is the only city with an NFL team when Wilson arrived in 2012 that Wilson has not yet played a game. A contest against the Bills in 2012 was a Buffalo home game played in Toronto, with Wilson leading a 50-17 Seahawks win.
The way the NFL schedule formula works, with each AFC division playing each NFC division once every four years, alternating home and road, Wilson will finally get a chance to play there, leaving only Las Vegas — where the Raiders moved this season — as an NFL city Wilson has not yet played.
“I think to go to every stadium, to be in every stadium, that’s a blessing in itself,’’ Wilson said. “I remember when I was a young kid, I wanted go to different stadiums and experience them all, to be able to play in them all and hopefully someday win in them all … it’s definitely pretty cool.’’
But in a “what-if?’’ that will always rankle Bills fans, Wilson has been to Buffalo before, taking one of his official pre-draft visits there in 2012 when the Bills were considering drafting him. Former general manager Buddy Nix said in an interview with The Athletic this summer that the team viewed him as a “potential savior.”
“It was a cool place,’’ Wilson said Thursday via Zoom, recalling that he was accompanied by linebacker Chandler Jones and running back Trent Richardson. “They love football, that’s for sure.’’
And sure, it’s easy for general managers to say they wanted to draft a player who turned out to be a great one, but the visit indicates Buffalo’s interest in Wilson was sincere (Denver also brought in Wilson, while the Seahawks did not, but they did have conversations with him at the Senior Bowl).
Nix told The Athletic the Bills had Wilson pegged for the fourth round and wanted to take him there. Buffalo had pick 105.
“We wanted him from the very start,’’ Nix told the publication in July. “We felt he would be there with our first pick in the fourth round, but he wasn’t there. We waited a half-round too long.”
Indeed, the Seahawks took Wilson in the third round at 75 overall, thinking he was about to be picked (the Eagles, who had the 88th pick and took Nick Foles, have long been thought to have had their eye on Wilson).
The Bills had Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback, and signed him to a six-year, $59 million extension in October 2011 in the midst of a 5-2 start. They didn’t think they needed immediate help at the spot, one reason they might have targeted Wilson, whose height had compelled most teams to consider him as a mid-round pick who might need some time to develop.
The Bills finished the 2011 season 6-10, with a 1-8 faceplant to end the season raising some doubts as to the wisdom of signing Fitzpatrick to that big deal.
The Bills cut Fitzpatrick in the spring of 2013 following another 6-10 season in 2012 and used their 2013 first-round pick — No. 16 overall — on E.J. Manuel of Florida State.
Manuel turned out to be one of the bigger first-round busts in recent history. He was out of the league by 2018 and made only 17 starts for Buffalo over four seasons, going 6-11, which makes Buffalo’s miss on Wilson the year before sting that much more.
Quarterbacks coach David Lee made a video presentation to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey showing that Wilson’s height wouldn’t be the problem some were thinking, showing “that Wilson’s over-the-top throwing motion made him deliver the ball taller than 6-foot-7 Brock Osweiler, who had a lower release,” per The Athletic.
Said Nix in the story: “He was short, but there was something about him. You knew this guy had something special. He was going to win wherever he went.”
Thinking Wilson would be available in the fourth round, the Bills used their third round pick — No. 69 overall — on receiver T.J. Graham, who had played with Wilson at North Carolina State.
Graham played just four years in the NFL and only two with Buffalo, making 61 receptions for 694 yards and four touchdowns.
And with the 105th pick — the one the Bills wanted to use on Wilson — Buffalo took linebacker Nigel Bradham, who has had a solid career and was a key part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl title team a few years ago.
“You look back at stuff like that,” the now-retired Nix said to The Athletic, “and it was the turning point in whether you were winning games or not.”
Before the Seahawks hosted the Bills on a Monday night in 2016, Wilson recalled paying attention to Buffalo’s pick of Graham in the third round, knowing the team was interested.
“I was excited for T.J.,’’ Wilson said then. “Obviously he’s a really good friend of mine and really good football player. We played together at N.C. State. I was excited for him. I wasn’t concerned about who wasn’t picking me. I was more concerned with who was going to pick me. Whatever team took me, I was going to make the 31 others regret. So that was my mentality.”