By Stephen Crockett
Disney couldn't write a better story: A short kid, much too short to play quarterback, won't let that fighting spirit in him die. So he plays in high school, both ways: quarterback on offense and cornerback on defense. Hell, he even punted the ball. His high school coach called him a one-man wrecking crew. He breaks records and is still rated only as a two-star recruit. Too short, they say.
He goes to North Carolina State, where he dominates on a mediocre team. Yet he is willing to leave the sport to play minor-league baseball after his college coaches reach out to NFL scouts to see what the kid's chances are in the NFL. Coaches aren't interested.
No one wants to see the 5-foot-11 kid throw the ball.
North Carolina State lets him go, but that football itch is stronger than his baseball jones, and he returns to school, this time to the University of Wisconsin.
Cue montage of spectacular touchdown passes and ridiculous runs as a Badger.
Then draft day. He isn't even in attendance. He has already been told that he won't be going in the first round.
"If he was 6 feet 5, he would probably be the No. 1 draft pick," says Chris Weinke, a former NFL quarterback and director of the IMG Madden Football Academy.
On Sunday the 5-foot-11, third-round draft pick (75th overall) and sixth quarterback taken in the draft, Russell Wilson, only two years in the league, led the Seattle Seahawks to a mud-hole stomping of the Denver Broncos, 43-8.
The story should have been easy to write, especially after the kid's stat line read 206 yards, 2 touchdowns, 18 of 25 passing, including 11 completions in a row in the second half, and whose coach would call his performance "a perfect football game."
But there is one caveat: The kid is black, and, well, black, intelligent, focused and poised quarterbacks for some reason don't get the same love as their white counterparts.
The big story after the Super Bowl wasn't the rise of a potential black legend. Instead it was the fallen legacy of a white one.
The Manning name is football royalty. So whenever football's biggest stage has a Manning in it, there will be the heartwarming stories of papa Manning and his sons tossing the football around in the backyard on a fall day. There will be endless talk about the heady decisions made in the pocket, the smart plays made even when clearly the pass was errant.
It isn't as if Peyton Manning isn't deserving of the praise. His season has been magical. It’s just that the legend of Peyton Manning met the emerging legacy of the Seattle Seahawks defense on Sunday, and the older quarterback looked like something he hasn't been his whole career: average. It isn't a knock on his history or a dig at his ability. It's just that on most days he's Superman. On Super Bowl Sunday, though, he was Clark Kent.
On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson was cool as a polar bear's toenails. He picked up huge first downs, broke out of the pocket when plays weren't there and kept the ball moving up the field. He was a poised picture of calmness under fire.
Yet he is continually labeled one of the worst terms assigned to a player at his position: game manager. Calling him a game manager is the equivalent of saying that this could have been done with anyone at the helm, and that in truth you did a great job at being average and so, yeah, thanks for that.
What was barely discussed at all in mainstream media, and really only seemed to be the talk of black Twitter, was that Wilson became only the second black quarterback since Doug Williams in 1988 to win the Super Bowl.
In 2007, quarterback Donovan McNabb told James Brown in an interview on Real Sports, "There's not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra. Because the percentage of us playing this position, which people didn't want us to play ... is low, so we do a little extra."
Because the quarterback position has always been a historically white position, it has always been praised as a cerebral craft more than an athletic feat. Knowing how to read defensive coverages, when to audible out of a play or when to check down to a hot route receiver is more chess match than physical sport.
When black quarterbacks started scrambling to keep plays alive, they didn't get praised for their decision-making; they got a nod to their speed and mobility. In short, white quarterbacks were smart; black quarterbacks were fast.
Even New York's Daily News, one of the few news outlets to devote a full article to Wilson, titling it, "Russell Wilson Proves Doubters Wrong, Becomes Second African-American Quarterback to Win Super Bowl," basically spent the whole article talking about how mediocre his game was.
"He didn't dominate, and he didn’t dazzle," is how the article begins, and there is the rub. Post flashy numbers while leading your team to victory and you're a spectacular athlete but not smart, or heady, or intelligent. Stand in the pocket looking cooler than Joe Namath wearing his big fur during the coin toss, while consistently making the right play at the right time, and you're average, even after winning the Super Bowl.
And that feels bigger than incidental. It feels racial.
This was printed in the February 23, 2014 - March 8, 2014 edition.