Kurt Warner extends the friendly invitation to many young quarterbacks coming into the NFL, and he means it sincerely. If you ever need anything, call me, the Hall of Fame QB tells them.
Few, he said, actually take him up on the offer.
“I’m dumbfounded why nobody calls or reaches out,” Warner said. “I think some guys are afraid to show you what they don’t know, so they don’t call. Other guys think they’ve got it all figured that, that they’re already ‘there,’ so they don’t call.”
Russell Wilson called. And he kept calling and kept calling. And then one day Wilson showed up at Warner’s Phoenix-area home, wanting to talk more, watch more, learn more.
Warner enjoys the mentorship role, and he takes it seriously. And Wilson is a serious student when it comes to his periodic studies with Warner. They became acquainted around the time the Seahawks drafted Wilson in 2012, and Warner has followed Wilson’s career in Seattle closely. They text regularly; one message might be a simple “GREAT PLAY!” from Warner, and Wilson might reply with a video clip asking Warner about a defensive scheme.
“He reminds me of the Tom Bradys and the Peyton Mannings — every year they seem to get better,” said Warner, 49, a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams and two-time league MVP. “You’ll look at previous years and go, ‘OK, they’ve maxed it out.’ But then all of a sudden they find a way to get better, and you’re going, ‘How in the world did they do that?’ ”
Wilson, 32, has often talked about his study habits — his “constant quest for knowledge.” In high school, Wilson attended Peyton Manning’s passing academy and has talked about how much he looks up to Manning, and how much he studied him. Wilson yearns to get to Manning’s level of mastery, and he’s spoken candidly — particularly in the past year — about wanting to be the greatest quarterback ever, and to play until he’s 45 years old. To that end, he mines many resources.
Last March, just 10 days before the coronavirus pandemic hit in earnest, Wilson called Warner one morning. Wilson explained he was in Phoenix to watch his sister, Anna, play for Stanford basketball that night against Arizona State, and he asked Warner if he could come over “and pick your brain.”
So the Hall of Fame QB and the future Hall of Fame QB spent a few hours at Warner’s house studying football — breaking down defenses and sorting through various plays in the Seahawks playbook. Wilson was particularly interested in how Warner prepared for particular games or particular moments.
“What’s impressive about Russ is, he’s reaching out and calling,” said Warner, now an analyst for NFL Network. “He is already great, and you might think there’s no need to ask for help, but that speaks to his humility and desire to want to be great. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it.”
When the Seahawks play the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game Saturday afternoon at Lumen Field, it will mark Wilson’s 16th career playoff start. Only one other NFL player — Brady, with 17 — has started more playoff games in his first nine seasons.
Robert Turbin was there for Wilson’s first playoff appearance eight years ago, a 24-14 wild-card victory at Washington on Jan. 6, 2013. It remains one of the most important games in Seahawks history and one of the most significant comebacks for a quarterback whose career has come to be defined by such dramatic rallies.
Turbin, the backup running back to Marshawn Lynch from 2012-14, remembers the feeling on the sideline at Washington’s FedEx Field as the Seahawks fell into a 14-0 hole, and he remembers how Wilson, as a rookie, quietly responded to the moment.
“That was a spotlight for him, for Russell coming into his own. Guys were looking around going, ‘OK, man, this is the NFL now. We hear you talking, and we hear you trying to be a leader vocally, but can that translate to making plays on the field?’ ” Turbin recalled. “And it did. It did. That was a huge eye-opener for a lot of people. It was like, ‘Man, this guy’s going to be doing this for a long, long time.’ ”
Turbin was Seattle’s fourth-round draft pick in 2012, selected 31 picks after Wilson was taken in the third round. The quarterback and the running back became close friends; for the next three years they were roommates during training camp and on road trips — together “almost 24/7” during the season, Turbin said.
After three productive seasons, and one Super Bowl victory, Turbin was released by the Seahawks in 2015, then played for three teams over the next four seasons. In a full-circle twist, he was back again with the Seahawks late in the 2019 season, reunited with Wilson just in time for the playoffs. When he had left four years earlier, the locker room was still largely centered on the big personalities on Seattle’s dominant defense. When he came back a year ago, Turbin could immediately sense Wilson’s ascension as an unquestioned leader.
“It is totally different now — his control, his knowledge, his comfortability within the offense and his understanding defenses and schemes. It’s next level now,” Turbin said.
Turbin said he got a kick out of the detailed opponent scouting reports Wilson was putting together each week last year — something the QB wasn’t doing earlier in his career. The reports, as Wilson has explained, can be up to 15 pages long and included not only personnel matchups but random tidbits on the opponent and trivia questions.
“He’s so smart, and so intelligent, and he could be calling his own plays if he wanted,” Turbin said. “And to see how Russell developed himself into becoming like that, it was really, really dope to see.”
Wilson and the Seahawks offense aren’t the same as they were early in the season — that’s been obvious. Wilson set a career high with 40 touchdown passes, and just 12 of those have come in the second half of the season.
After the Seahawks’ stunning 17-12 loss to the New York Giants, Wilson and Turbin talked late that night via FaceTime. (Wilson always prefers to talk on FaceTime, Turbin said.)
“It was one of those things where, I’m watching my best friend on TV and he’s kind of had a bad game — it happens to everybody,” Turbin said. “He said he appreciated the conversation, and that it was a conversation he needed. It’s just great to be there for one another. … One thing about our relationship is, we’ve always been not just honest but brutally honest with one another — knowing that it comes from love. That’s what real friendship is about.”
The Seahawks (12-4) have won four in a row since, playing in the sort of low-scoring, grind-it-out kind of games that — they hope — has them hardened for the playoffs.
“They haven’t always shown the consistency, but what they have shown is the consistency of finding ways to win,” Turbin said. “Yeah, it may not be the prettiest thing that you see watching the game, but they consistently find a way to pull it out at the end. And at the end of the day, that’s all you need, especially in the playoffs.”
Wilson hasn’t shied away from lofty expectations.
“It gives us a chance to try to do what we want to do,” he said recently, “and that’s to win the Super Bowl and try to bring another Super Bowl back home to Seattle.”