“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Russ vs. The Kid” Chapter 75
By Bruce Williams
As what feels like the slow winding down of Russell Wilson’s brilliant Seattle Seahawks’ career, I felt it fitting to address his singular significance in this town’s athletic folklore. And really, if there were a Mount Rushmore representing the Emerald City for sports alone, it would probably just include Russ and Ken Griffey Jr.—and exactly which pro athlete has meant more to this city could be the topic of barstool blowhardery for decades to come.
What about The Glove and Shawn Kemp, you say? Steve Largent? Sue Bird? Edgar? Bobby Wagner? The ‘79 Sonics (truly a team effort)? The Big Unit? Husky greats Steve Emtman, Kelsey Plum (I love the video of her hucking a t-shirt into the crowd at a Spurs game—worth looking up) or the ‘36 Olympic rowers (The Boys in the Boat)? All legitimate contenders, as well as all the others I’ve forgotten or omitted due to space. But none of those athletes changed the sports landscape of this city as much as Russ and The Kid.
Griffey—arguably the best player of his era…an era utterly plagued by steroids in which the lefty managed to still dominate while remaining (by all accounts) clean. Griffey—who holds the most iconic moment in this town’s baseball memory…a picture capturing a glorious second in time after he slid into home plate (scoring from first on Edgar’s double) and was mobbed on the ground by teammates back in ‘95. The fact that the M’s came back from two games down in a five-game series in the bottom of the 11th of the deciding game against the hated Yankees only added to the drama.
Russell took the Hawks to the Super Bowl twice, winning one and nearly (shoulda) won a second. He’s made them relevant in the NFC West for an entire decade. The team to beat. Who would’ve thought he’d be undone by a finger? Not a whole finger either—just the tip. I had that same injury last year (from tucking in my shirt of all things), and while I’m older and decidedly less athletic than #3, it took several months for the finger to look and act normally again. Suddenly a depleted, still superstar 33-year old quarterback on a team filled with glaring holes starts looking like the best piece of trade bait to help refill the roster. Make no mistake—Russ will go into the Hall as a Seahawk, but it might be time to consider moving him for future Seahawk greatness.
There was that time when Griffey left the Mariners to “go home” to Cincinnati (even though his family lived in Florida at the time), or when he up and quit the team after his late-career return—shortly after falling asleep in the dugout no less, but I think we’ve all forgiven him for that stuff. There was a miraculous 4-year window where he averaged 52 HRs, 142 RBIs, 19 SBs with a .997 OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage). Yikes! Some of the catches he made in the outfield were other-worldly, and he was able to make it look so effortless. His swing was also a wooden pendulum of beauty—rocking back-and-forth with the bat cocked on his shoulder, eyeballing the pitcher like he was about to school this fool.
Wilson is so positive and all-around good, it’s like he came from another planet as well. Shattering all preconceived conceptions about diminutive signal callers (ushering in an era of shorter starters—Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield to name just two), visiting Children’s Hospital every week, navigating a sticky divorce from his first wife as well as a devastating interception at the goal line in a Super Bowl the team had all but wrapped up, then handling the fallout(s) with his natural grace and aplomb.
So which athlete has meant more to this city? Griffey stood out nationally for his exploits while Russ is just one of many great quarterbacks of the new millennium—but he did win the Big One. That ‘79 Sonics team also won a championship, but they were so balanced that no one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. Yes, I know the Storm has won four trophies and the Sounders two, but neither captured as much of this city’s entire heart and imagination like Griffey’s ‘95 Mariners or Russ’ ‘14 Seahawks. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one (if either) deserves his bronze bust at the very top of the Jet City pyramid.