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Russell Wilson kept Super Bowl dreams alive when playing minor-league baseball for Rockies

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson runs against the

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson runs against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half. (Oct. 17, 2013) Credit: AP

Chugging around the country on a bus with a low minor-league baseball team leaves a young man with plenty of time to daydream. About home. About girlfriends. About making it to The Show or even winning a World Series.

Rarely does someone in that situation spend his idle moments pondering what it would be like to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

But for one second baseman in the Rockies' organization a few years ago, that's exactly where his mind was when it wasn't focused on turning double plays or wondering whether he would be in the next day's lineup.

"I knew I still had this fire to play the game of football,'' Russell Wilson said of those not-so-long-ago days. "It was itching me . . . Everybody was saying I should stick with baseball, I could play in the big leagues for a long time. But I believed in my talent.''

So in July 2011, 93 games into his career as a .228 hitter for the Class A Asheville Tourists, Wilson quit baseball, returned a good portion of the signing bonus that came with being drafted in the fourth round and returned to college football.

Most of the dreams of the young men on that minor-league bus went unfulfilled. On Sunday, however, Wilson will get a chance to make his come true. He'll be the starting quarterback for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, and it's a role that he practically willed himself to fill.

Often overlooked as a quarterback because of his size, the 5-11 Wilson found inspiration as a young player by watching a quarterback at Purdue named Drew Brees. Both are rarities -- quarterbacks shorter than 6 feet tall -- and Wilson studied Brees' game in college and followed it to the NFL.

"My height doesn't define me,'' Wilson said.

Two weeks before the 2012 NFL draft, Wilson, a quarterback for Wisconsin (after playing his first three seasons for North Carolina State), put all 32 team names into a hat and decided, for some reason, that the one he picked would be the one that would pick him.

He was, he admitted, secretly rooting for the Broncos. He'd had a strong visit with the team -- during which he was reintroduced to their newly signed quarterback, Peyton Manning, after having attended his passing camp -- and thought it would be a good fit, given that his baseball rights still belonged to the Rockies.

He pulled the Seahawks.

Wilson was named the Seahawks' starter at the beginning of his rookie season. Unlike other franchise quarterbacks who are selected and inserted from Day One, Wilson had to beat out a high-priced veteran in Matt Flynn to get the job.

"He took over,'' said guard J.R. Sweezy, a teammate of Wilson's at N.C. State. "It's not like a cocky takeover, it's just, he knew it. And the way he practiced and played, it was just, he's the guy . . . It's almost like an aura. You just know.''

The Seahawks were impressed, even before he was theirs. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell recalled watching Wilson play for Wisconsin, not as a coach but just as a fan of the team.

"I couldn't believe how poised this guy was,'' Bevell said. "My comment was, 'It was like he was doing pat and go.' Everything is storming around him, and he is just standing there like, 'OK, let's pat and go,' like he is doing a warm-up drill. The poise is what really stood out to me.''

Last year Wilson attended Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans as a spectator. He just wanted to see what it was like, get a feel for the unusual flow of the game with musical performances before and during the game, see just how bright those lights really are. He did it with the anticipation that he would have a chance to put those notes to use in the following Super Bowl.

He's here.

And when the Seahawks faced the Broncos in the preseason, Wilson finished that game with a strange feeling. He knew somewhere in the depths of his being that this was not the last time the two teams would face each other during the 2013-14 season.

Of course, with the squads not on each other's regular-season schedule and not in the same conference for a possible playoff meeting, that meant there was only one other opportunity for it to happen:

Super Bowl XLVIII.

It did.

"I'm big into visualizing,'' Wilson said, "and this moment right here is exactly what I visualized.''

Now Wilson has one more premonition to fulfill:

A win. A championship.

"I definitely expected to be here,'' he said. "I believe in my talent. I believe in everything that I've been given. I expect to play at a high level, and I expect to be fighting for a Super Bowl every year.''

Every year?

Those long bus trips sure can spark the imagination.


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