SEATTLE -- Russell Wilson turned off the highway in Madison, Wis., late one July night in 2011 and noticed the street sign.
It was the first time Wilson would pay attention to the name.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Two-and-a-half years later, after extensively studying a man named Drew Brees (whose relation to the street name is unknown), Wilson will get the chance face the player he’s happy to emulate.
“When I went to Wisconsin, I had tons and tons of film on him that I got,” Wilson said. “I just watched every throw, pretty much, that he had thrown for the most part in the NFL. Just really studied him, studied his footwork, studied what he does and obviously everybody compares our heights and everything.”
Wilson’s Seahawks (10-1) hosts Brees’ Saints (9-2) tonight at 7:30 in one of the biggest games of the NFL season, a game that could determine NFC playoff seeding with a month to play.
The admiration isn’t one-sided, however.
“Listen, there’s plenty of things that that guy can do that I could never dream of doing athletically,” said Brees, owner of a Super Bowl ring and title game MVP honors. “You watch the way he plays, you see the intensity and focus which he plays with, and he’s won a lot of big games in his early career thus far.”
Wilson’s resume speaks for itself. He guided the Seahawks to within a whisper of an NFC championship game as a rookie and hasn’t lost a home game yet.
He has thrown for 2,362 yards, 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season. His 105.1 quarterback rating is sixth in the NFL.
If the efficiency sounds familiar, it should. Brees is once again among the league’s best passers, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,647 yards. His 28 touchdowns are second in the NFL and his 107.3 rating is fourth.
That’s not to mention that they’re constantly compared to each other because of their stature; both stand no taller than 6-foot and both have had to overcome not being “prototypical NFL quarterback height” to get to where they are currently.
And yes, if you’re wondering, the two have discussed such things in their time together at both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, where they worked on a project help high school students manage money.
“We might’ve talked about just the fact that you have to see through windows and anticipate,” Brees said. “The other senses kind of have to be heightened. If you lack vision at times or whatever, you’ve got to be able to do other things to make up for that. That’s just part of being a six-foot and under quarterback.”
Wilson hasn’t shown a problem with that thus far into his career.
After growing up a Saints fan – “I used to wear a Saints hat at the University of Wisconsin all the time. I’m a huge fan. I watch them. I don’t wear it anymore though,” Wilson said – the athletic quarterback has helped Seattle become the league’s second-highest scoring team.
“He is so accurate, especially when he’s on the move, running around like he does making plays,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “He’s tremendous at that. He’s probably the best scrambler in football (in my book). I think the guy is outstanding. We got our work cut out for us.”
“He knows how to take chances and knows where he’s going to throw the ball,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “If he doesn’t have anything, he’ll throw it away, he’ll scramble and buy time, he won’t get hit like some of these other mobile quarterbacks that when they do run, you look forward to getting a shot on him. He’ll just slide or simply get out of bounds.
“He’s playing smart to keep his team in it, to keep it close and they’re putting up points when they need to.”
And maybe that’s just Wilson channeling his inner-Brees.
When asked what specifically he took from watching the Saints quarterback play, Wilson didn’t hesitate to unleash an extensive answer.
“I think the intangibles are the first things,” Wilson said. “His leadership, his attention to detail, his competitive nature, his poise – those are all things that I recognize as a competitive athlete. I notice those things. I study the game a lot. He’s definitely one of the best at that, if not the best.”
It’s safe to say that no matter what happens tonight, both will continue to follow each other’s careers.