More than a decade ago, Harrison Wilson told his son, an aspiring young quarterback, that he should be paying attention to the quarterback who was putting up big numbers for Purdue's offense. Wilson's response was something close to, Pur-what-now?
"My dad used to always tell me, 'Man you got to watch this guy Drew Brees from Purdue,'" Wilson said. "I was like, 'Who is Drew Brees. Where's Purdue at?' I didn't know where Purdue was. I'm from Virginia, I didn't know where Purdue was."
Wilson took the advice of his father, learned about that quarterback and that school in West Lafayette, Ind., and saw in Brees a player he could model his game after as a talented but undersized quarterback.
"That's when I really started watching Drew Brees," Wilson said. "He was similar in stature, had a great arm, very accurate with the football, could move really well too at the same time. So he was a guy that you'd definitely watch."
Now, nearly 13 years after Brees' college career came to an end with a Rose Bowl loss to Washington, Wilson will face his idol tonight when the Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints in what might be the biggest regular season game of Wilson's young NFL career.
At 10-1, the Seahawks control their own destiny in the NFC playoff picture, but the Saints are just a game behind at 9-2, meaning the winner of this game will have a very good chance at earning home field advantage in the postseason. And while there are many reasons each franchise has gotten to this point, one big one that they have in common is a willingness to take a chance on a quarterback other teams doubted. At 6-foot, Brees came into the NFL with the same size concerns that made Wilson a third-round pick last year. Despite being one of the best quarterbacks in college football, Brees was a second-round pick in 2001, then after a shoulder injury threatened Brees' career, the San Diego Chargers let Brees leave in free agency. All Brees would do in the next chapter of his career is become one of the most prolific passers in NFL history while leading the Saints to a Super Bowl title.
Wilson, meanwhile, also starred at a Big Ten school (his senior season at Wisconsin), and was also undervalued by NFL teams because of his size. And like Brees, Wilson has been making people look silly for ever questioning his ability to play at the next level.
"If you want to say there are a lot of similarities between us, maybe with the way that we entered this league being that we weren't first-round draft picks or anything like that," Brees said on a conference call. "There were question marks about our size and all of those things, and yet you just find a way to overcome those things and when given an opportunity you just try to make the most of it. Certainly he's done that, he's been fun to watch, he's a great competitor, great player and the sky's the limit for a guy like that. Watching him from afar, those type of people; those are the kind of guys that you root for. Those are the kind of guys that when good things happen to those guys you say he deserves that, he deserves all of the success in the world."
Yet the thing Wilson and Brees have in common that is most significant isn't their lack of height, but rather their refusal to even let that be an issue. When Wilson finally met Brees at the Pro Bowl last winter, he didn't ask Brees how to overcome being a short quarterback, he asked him about how he became one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Sure they'll always be linked by a lack of physical stature, but Wilson would much rather be compared to Brees for winning a title or for being one of the league's best quarterbacks, not for being the short guy overcoming the odds.
At the Pro Bowl, Wilson asked Brees, "What separated yourself from year one to year two, and then from year two to the rest of your career? What really made you accelerate your process of being a great football player?"
Brees' response, Wilson recalled, was, "My approach every day. ... Every day I walk into the locker room, every day that I wake up, it's a constant grind to try to improve myself. Whether if it's in the weight room, whether it's my flexibility, whether if it's my reads, no matter what it is, I have a purpose to the day."
Sound like any other quarterback you know?
"It's the same the philosophy that I've always thought," Wilson said. "But it's also good to hear it from a guy that's going to be a Hall of Famer, a guy that's one of the best quarterbacks that's ever played the game, so you have a lot of respect for that."
The mutual respect between quarterbacks will take a back seat to a huge game tonight, but once it ends, you can bet Wilson will go back to being one of Brees' biggest fans, something he has been ever since taking his dad's advice so many years ago.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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