"I think the whole Northwest has a bit of an inferiority complex," says Brian Nemhauser, who owns and runs Hawkblogger.com, one of the most popular independent sports blogs dedicated to all things Seahawks. "Matt Hasselbeck used to joke about the area being Southern Alaska, but that sentiment really does permeate the culture here. In general everyone out here feels like anything that's done is immediately forgotten nationally, sports or otherwise. It's almost a reaffirmation for their inferiority. This whole area is just starving for that moment of validation where they matter."
That's the environment Wilson stepped into when the team selected him with the 75th pick in the 2012 NFL draft. At the time, no one saw a savior. Some of that was his own physical shortcomings -- at the NFL combine, he barely hit 5-foot-11 when scouts broke out the tape measure, meaning he'd be the league's shortest starting quarterback if he ever cracked the lineup -- but some of the skepticism was intertwined with the Seahawks' long history of quarterback prospects never quite living up to their lofty promise.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the franchise burned three first-round picks on quarterbacks (Kelly Stouffer, Dan McGwire, Rick Mirer) who never amounted to much. After shuffling through a series of journeymen and aging veterans, Hasselbeck, acquired in a trade with Green Bay, seemed to break the curse, making it to three Pro Bowls and leading the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2006. But injuries and a string of playoff disappointments ultimately left him with a bit of a mixed legacy.
When the team let Hasselbeck leave as a free agent and signed Matt Flynn in 2012, it seemed like a logical transition. Flynn, after all, had made headlines by throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns during his only NFL start for the Green Bay Packers. But by the end of training camp, it was clear Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was enthralled with Wilson. Fans were divided on whether it was a stroke of genius or madness. All most Seahawks fans knew of Wilson at that point was that he was short and soft-spoken.
"Carroll had to reiterate multiple times during training camp that it was real," Nemhauser says. "He was priding himself on taking an unconventional path forward. I thought it was an unnecessary risk. It had more downside than potential upside. Unlike Andrew Luck or [Robert Griffin III], Russell didn't even get a majority of the starter reps in camp. He was getting about a third, maybe even less, then all the sudden you decide he's the starter? I thought it was reckless."
It might very well have been reckless. Wilson struggled early, and nearly lost his job four games into the season. But Carroll trusted his intuition, and Wilson's ultimate ability to handle the pressure that came with the decision might make it the best gamble in franchise history.
One thing helped Seahawks fans get behind him early, despite his initial struggles: his personality. He seemed likeable. He seemed humble. He was gracious in interviews, confident he was learning from his mistakes, but not overly cocky.