At 88 and fighting an uncooperative back in his Virginia home, Dr. Harrison B. Wilson will not make it to Super Bowl Sunday to watch his grandson take on one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Dr. Wilson will watch Russell on TV, watch him try to go pass-for-pass with Peyton Manning, and at some point he believes he will see his own son out there on the MetLife Stadium field, wearing Seahawks jersey No. 3.
Russell Wilson is his late father, Harry B., from the way he walks to the way he talks, from his facial features down to the size of his hands. "A spitting image," said Dr. Wilson, who should know. They said Harry B. was all but a carbon copy of his old man, too.
Russell's father and Dr. Wilson's son died in 2010, the day after Russell was drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Harrison, or Harry B., was only 55 when he finally succumbed to diabetes a couple of years after he emerged from a coma and returned to his everyday life, stunning doctors who had expected him to be gone within days.
He was a strong man who was raised by one himself. A child of the Depression, Dr. Wilson has seen it all and done it all, living what his daughter, April, described as a Forrest Gump-like existence. Maybe that's why his grandson has sounded so confident about taking the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the Denver Broncos, who happen to be led by a quarterback whose camp Russell attended in 10th grade.
Back in the day, Dr. Wilson was the only black athlete on his high school teams in Amsterdam, N.Y., where he played every sport he could and even found time for speedskating in the winter. He played ball in the service with Larry Doby, and while in the Navy became fast friends with Pee Wee Reese at Pearl Harbor, where Reese would sit next to Wilson on bus rides just as he would later plant himself next to Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn and beyond.
Dr. Wilson said he watched Douglas MacArthur hop out of a boat and walk ashore in the South Pacific. Dr. Wilson became a basketball star at Kentucky State, and then the head basketball coach at Jackson State, where he started on a $3,400 salary before going 340-72 over 16 years and beating teams featuring the likes of Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State) and Willis Reed (Grambling).
"If I couldn't recruit you," Dr. Wilson said Monday evening by phone, "nobody could."
Bear Bryant became one of his dear friends. Dr. Wilson was good enough himself to win big at the highest levels of Division I, to overcome the hurdles forever blocking the paths of ambitious black coaches. Only Dr. Wilson wanted to run a college, not a locker room, so he became the president of Norfolk State and built it into something it was not.
He earned his doctorate degree at Indiana, had six kids and coached his four boys as often as he could. Harry B. was the most athletic of the bunch, good enough to grow into a dynamic wide receiver at Dartmouth and to believe he had a credible shot at pro ball. But Dr. Wilson made him a deal. Get a law degree and I guarantee I'll get you a tryout afterward.