RENTON, Wash. – Nearly a decade ago, in the damp July heat at Southeastern Louisiana University, a sophomore from Collegiate School in Virginia learned the essence of quarterbacking from the master.
"I liked him so much back then and still do, just the way he plays the game," Wilson said last week at the Seattle Seahawks' facility.
Ultimately, Wilson declined to emulate the precise way Manning plays the game. In fact, he went in the opposite direction. The Broncos' Manning set NFL records for regular-season touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477). Wilson's numbers (26 touchdowns, 3,357 yards) paled by comparison. Somehow, despite the dramatic stylistic differences, the two quarterbacks each managed to win 15 games and deliver their teams to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Manning is not giving you this: In the NFC Championship Game, on a second-and-7 play in the second quarter, Wilson made more than something from less than nothing. He rolled right and set his feet, but was pushed back by 49ers defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Wilson backpedaled, reset his feet, and, sensing a hurtling linebacker, stepped up and let the ball fly from 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who had snuck behind safeties Eric Reid and Donte Whitner, caught a ball that traveled more than 60 yards and was tackled at the San Francisco 11. The Seahawks managed only a field goal after that 13-second play, their first score of the game, but it was a pivotal play.
"He sat in the pocket for a while, had to escape and scanned the field," said wide receiver Golden Tate, who, like a number of his teammates, relished the opportunity to provide the play-by-play. "He threw a beautiful ball, and Douglas made a heck of a catch. Helped us win the game."
Tight end Zach Miller said he felt "like that play lasted about 20 seconds."
That is how Wilson does it. Manning is a creature of the comfort and safety of the pocket. Wilson, for some reason, thrives outside that sanctuary. Over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson has thrown a league-high 223 passes once beyond the pocket. You know who is last on that list: Manning, with 52.
Moreover, Wilson has completed a tidy 57.4 percent of those passes from that tenuous base of operations. The league average is 49.1 percent. Wilson led the league with 51 scrambles in the regular season. Manning's last official scramble was 14 months ago at Kansas City.
Wilson has that one thing Manning doesn't: escapability.
"He has that awareness that great players have," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "They don't have to see things happening; they can feel it. You couldn't do the things that he does without that great spatial awareness and athleticism and stuff that goes along with it."
Wilson's defensive teammates, who make a living containing quarterbacks, have a name for him.
Said defensive end Cliff Avril, "We're like, 'There goes Houdini again.'"
Erik Weisz was born in Budapest, Hungary, but his greatest feats of escape and astonishment came in, of all places, New York.