It was supposed to be Seattle’s season of sports hate — and well, to a certain extent it has been.
Piling on former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has become an Emerald City pastime on par with lapping up lattes.
However, there has been an antidote that has not only neutralized the burn sparked by Wilson’s departure, but maybe — just maybe — caused fans to erase him from their brains almost entirely.
His name is Geno Smith — the anti-Russell who is blossoming into one of the best stories in all of sports.
Everyone remembers the chants of “Ge-no! Ge-no!” that boomed from the Lumen Field stands in Week 1: They seemed like less of an ode to Smith and more of a diss to Wilson.
The Seahawks quarterback could have been anybody at the time, and given Geno’s journeyman career arc, he essentially was. But two things happened that turned Smith from a placeholder to a man cementing his place as a Seattle sports icon.
1) He was spectacular in the first half, completing 17 of 18 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. 2) He ripped off a post-victory quote unlike anything you would have heard from Wilson: “They wrote me off. I ain’t write back, though.”
I’m not saying this was Walt Whitman. I’m not saying this was necessarily improvised, either — although it very well could have been. But it went viral and seemed to instantly make Smith something to fans that Wilson never quite was: genuine.
It was the kind of line someone might rip off while knocking back IPAs among friends — not something carefully crafted for one’s Instagram following. And it was consistent with a man whose news conferences have been as compelling as his exploits between the lines. Well, almost as compelling.
Smith isn’t just an NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidate anymore — he’s in the MVP mix as well. Only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (109.5) and Buffalo’s Josh Allen (109.1) have a better passer rating than his 107.7 — and Geno’s 73.5 percent completion percentage is tops in the league. But it’s the nature of these completions, such as the two TD tosses to Tyler Lockett vs. the Saints, or the two scoring passes to Marquise Goodwin on Sunday vs. the Chargers — or even the incompletion that DK Metcalf caught out of bounds at the 1-yard line that same game.
This isn’t a game manager keeping his accuracy high because he’s risk-averse — it’s an unprecedented rise of a seven-year backup who’s dropping dimes as if he’s campaigning for his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl.
We’ve never really seen anything like this before, I said to Geno a couple weeks back before listing off his accomplishments.
“Are you surprised?” he asked.
If you told me this before the season, I’d have been surprised, yeah.
“That’s because you never watched me throw.”
First, these aren’t the kinds of exchanges you’d get from Wilson, whose postgame or Thursday pressers were rarely worth attending. Second — we did watch him throw for two years when he started with the Jets. He was just never anything like this.
Geno’s achievements on the field have turned the first-place Seahawks (4-3) into one of the league’s most intriguing teams. The previous consensus was that any success they enjoyed this season was simply gravy — that it would be foolish to expect playoff contention given Wilson’s departure and the fact that they lead the NFL in rookie snaps.
Now they’ve lured their fan base into what seems more and more like legitimate hope thanks to a quarterback who hasn’t just filled in for a nine-time Pro Bowler in Wilson, but who is, dare I say … an upgrade?
“He’s different than he was. You can put a label on somebody for what he was, and then you miss the whole chance to understand this guy,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “This guy is a different guy.”
Two things have stood out in regard to how Geno has handled questions over the past several months. The first is his unwavering support for his teammates. When it looked like a neck-and-neck battle between him and Drew Lock for the starting QB job at the start of the preseason, Smith couldn’t say enough about how much he had Lock’s back. The second is how much he’s downplaying his moment in the spotlight or whether this is vindicating a decade of going relatively unnoticed.
“As far as any vindication, I already knew who I was. This is not fulfilling me in any way,” Smith said. “It’s about the team and how we can get better and continue to win each week.”
A lot of people can say the words. A great deal fewer actually mean them.
On the field, Smith is the real thing. Off the field — he’s just plain real.