Seattle – It didn’t take the Seattle Seahawks and their fans long to move on from the Russell Wilson era. It doesn’t matter that he led the team through a decade of victories. It doesn’t matter that he helped secure the team’s only Super Bowl title.
Seahawks Wilson traded the Denver Broncos off-season Having become disillusioned with his former team’s lack of protection for him, and unwillingness to give him a voice in personnel decisions. In the end, the gap between Wilson and the club widened too wide to close.
That gap was a big reason why Wilson, despite all of his success over 10 seasons in Seattle, was booed from the moment he walked onto the field for a warm-up before the Broncos played the Seahawks in their season opener on Monday. The booing continued as the teams re-emerged to start the match, and each time a snap Wilson touched or dropped a receiver.
The boos only stopped, in fact, when they were replaced by Seattle chants in the final moments of the game: Wilson’s final campaign ended when Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett opted to send goalkeeper Brandon McManus to attempt a field drive for 64 yards within 20 seconds of the game. Wall Clock. Watching Wilson from the sideline, his night ended, McManus missed the kick, allowing the Seahawks to escape with a 17-16 victory.
“They may cheer you up, they may despise you, they may love you one day and hate you the next,” said Wilson, a relentless optimist. “This is a sport.”
Wilson nearly silenced his skeptics, as he passed for 340 yards and touched down repeatedly with his new receivers, Jerry Judy and Cortland Sutton, for big gains.
Playing from behind in the third quarter, Wilson led the Broncos on back-to-back trips to the red zone. But the Broncos went out without any points as their backs, Melvin Gordon and Jafonte Williams, fumbled into the goal-line stands to help the Seahawks maintain their 17-13 lead. Nor did Denver’s publicized defense do Wilson a favor; He was repeatedly punished — 12 times, for 106 yards — allowing the Seahawks to extend their drives.
But Wilson said he had no problem with Hackett’s decision to go to McManus to try and win the match.
“I don’t think it was a wrong decision,” Wilson said. “Obviously in hindsight, we didn’t succeed, but if we were in this situation again, I wouldn’t doubt anything he decided.”
Many midfielders, of course, returned to their first homes with new colors. Brett Favre to Green Bay. Peyton Manning to Indianapolis. Tom Brady to New England. In most cases, fans will often put their tribal loyalties aside – for a brief period – to appreciate their former favorites before making fun of them once the game starts.
Wilson didn’t enjoy that much on his return to Seattle. He was fired twice and hit multiple times, much to the delight of the selling audience at Lumen Field. Fans carried signs that read “Show Russ the Boom,” a reference to Seattle’s famous Legion of Boom defense, and “12 > 3,” a reference to the Seahawks’ nickname for their fan – the 12th man – and Wilson’s No.
“I didn’t wear my Wilson shirt because it’s no longer a Seahawk,” said Shawn Rey, a longtime season ticket holder who instead arrived in a Brian Blades jersey in honor of the ’90s Seahawks recipient. “One day, Wilson will have his number retired and people will go crazy. I will wear it then.”
The Seahawks were so much in love with Wilson that they treated his former replacement, Gino Smith, as the new savior of Seattle. Smith threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to finish off tight-lipped Will Disley on the Seahawks’ first run, causing the audience to chant “Ge-no! Ge-no!” as if he was a contender for best player.
“In the NFL, you never know when the momentum will change,” Smith said. “Anytime you’re home, any time, you want to start the first drive and then get off and score.”
After nine well-traveled but lackluster seasons, including two as backup for Wilson, Smith — who now plays for his fourth NFL team — said he finally felt justified.
He said of his critics: “They crossed me out, but I will never write again.”
Smith completed his first 13 passes, 23 of his 28 total passes, and finished with 195 yards and two touchdowns. Unlike Wilson, he left the field to cheer.
Despite the pleasant reception he received in Seattle, Wilson appears to have regained a measure of control in Denver, where he now plays for a defensively sound team thought to be a quarterback out of the competition.
Wilson said the boos “didn’t bother me.” This is a hostile environment. It has always been. I gave everything I had here every day.”
Known for his attention to detail, Wilson seems to be focusing entirely on Colorado. When he entered the lobby of the Denver Broncos facility, he touched the glass protecting the team’s three Lombardi awards, pausing in front of them for a moment to think.
Presumably Wilson is considering how determined he is to win another Super Bowl. In fact, in July, Wilson posted a video of him training in the orange and blue cleats adorned with the Lombardi Trophy on his back. Next to the cup was the words “Fourth Coming Soon.”
The Broncos’ new owners, the Walton family, were so confident in Wilson’s potential that they rewarded him this month with a five-year contract extension worth $245 million.
In Seattle, ambitions are more modest. The Seahawks are not expected to compete for the playoffs in the NFC as they overhaul the rest of their roster until after the quarterback. But by defeating Wilson, Seattle took its first step into a new era.
Ben Spiegel Reporting contributed from Englewood, Colo.
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