ESPN spots a ghost in the Seattle-Russell Wilson lovefest

Some GetReligion readers may have noticed that there is a big football game later today.

One of the teams involved in the Super Bowl this year is the Seattle Seahawks and, as always, the team’s quarterback — in this case second-year starter Russell Wilson — is getting quite a bit of attention, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Wilson is short by NFL standards, standing only 5-foot-11. Second, he is one of those guys who walks into a room and is instantly recognized as a leader, sort of like my all-time sports heroes Bill Russell and Mike Singletary.

Finally, Wilson is rather open about his Christian faith and beliefs, although his style is more subdued than a Tim Tebow.

To no one’s surprise, ESPN produced a major feature on Wilson this week, running under the headline: “The adoration of Russell Wilson.” As is common with this kind of story, it opens with a long anecdote telling how Wilson quietly got involved in the lives of Kristina and Dave Quick and, in particular, their five-pound newborn son Franklin and his “imperfect, broken heart.” After one crisis, there is a tense, risky 10-hour surgery.

This leads to the transition into the body of the article:

The weeks and months to come would be critical. A few days later, Quick was half asleep next to his son when a stranger walked into the room. For a moment, Quick wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or imagining things. But then the stranger, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, did something the Quicks will never forget.

He hugged them. He told the Quicks he and his wife, Ashton, had heard about Franklin, and they’d been thinking about him a lot. They’d been praying for him every day. They just wanted to stop by and let the Quicks know they were pulling for Franklin.

“I think I probably experienced about 10 different emotions,” Quick says. “Shock, disbelief, but most of all, pure genuine joy. For someone of his stature to do that is just amazing. For 20 minutes, he enabled us to not think about everything we were going through. He greeted us like we were family. I’d heard about these visits, that it was something he liked to do, but you see him walk through that door and you know he’s the real deal. He is truth.”

What does a star athlete really mean to the city where he plays? It’s a complicated question, and the truth is, the answer varies depending on the market and the athlete.

Here’s the key to this story. I assumed this would be a pretty basic God-card story about an athlete who — like a Robert Griffin III — has consistently tried to express his faith through public service. I expected the ESPN team to somehow deal with the obvious subject, which is Wilson’s Christian faith.

However, I wondered if the article would take on the other religious issue in this story — Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

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Scoring spiritual points before Super Bowl Sunday

Every year about this time, we face a blitz of profile stories of coaches, athletes, owners, fans and even pets preparing to square off on Super Bowl Sunday (I’m a huge fan of Puppy Bowl, by the way).

The big story in advance of the 2014 human installment: the frigid temperatures and whether or not the Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos matchup can attract a proper crowd within the confines of New Jersey’s undomed MetLife Stadium.

Second to that, we’re being treated to a lineup of features on the teams, faith angles and other more spiritual sides of the Sunday offering.

Some stories, like some Super Bowl pairings, are better than others.

From the Chicago Tribune comes a winner on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his Christian faith:

Seattle’s franchise quarterback is a devout Christian, so fans should hope he doesn’t cut his hair prior to Sunday and lose strength much like Samson in the Old Testament book of Judges. Samson got power from his flowing locks until the temptress Delilah took shears to his dome piece.

(Christianity) has helped Wilson both on and off the football field, and there is no better time than now at the Super Bowl to have faith in what he believes in. Scroll through Wilson’s Twitter page and you will be reminded where his heart and soul reside.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

That was taken from the book of Matthew and perfectly defines Wilson, who has been searching for success in sports and as a human being. The former Wisconsin star takes excerpts from various books of the Bible and uses them in his every day life.

Touchdown, Tribune! A fine example of using Scripture and its application in proper context. We never learn precisely what faith group with which Wilson aligns himself, but we delve more deeply into his beliefs and perspective here than any other report I found.

Not to be outdone, the Denver Post found a creative angle with its piece on Archbishop Samuel Aquila, a fervent Broncos fan who plans to celebrate Mass with a group of players and coaches at the team’s hotel Saturday night.

Aquila has become close to Broncos defensive coordinator Jack DelRio, and the two men are allowed to explain more about their faith journey that developed through the course of this season:

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Spot the ghost: An X factor for QB Russell Wilson?

While things are not going very well in his second playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks (writing at halftime), it’s pretty clear that the amazing success of the undersized, yet tough as nails, quarterback Russell Wilson has been one of the National Football League’s most amazing stories this year.

The Washington Post produced a profile of the rookie the other day, which ran within days of a similar story — the latest of many — about another amazing rookie, Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

In both cases the stories tried to explain the amazing leadership skills possessed by these two young men, the almost supernatural ability they have to remain calm and to lead others.

The bottom line: What’s so different about these guys, I mean, other than the fact they are African-Americans, academically brilliant and have unusual levels of talent? Might the X factor have something to do with their backgrounds and, well, the way their lives revolve around their families and their faith?

Consider this part of the Post take on Wilson:

Wilson is undersized. He speaks in cliches. He talks about faith and family. He doesn’t hit the town with teammates, and many nights he’s in bed by 9 p.m.

“He’s always serious, even when we’re not supposed to be serious,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “That’s a good thing.”

“He’s pretty much all work and no play,” tight end Anthony McCoy added.

I don’t know about you, but this passage seems to be suggesting that there is a moral component to Wilson’s early success. And that “faith” reference? Might there be a follow-up question there?

Nope. Apparently not.

The story does, however, do move on to do a pretty good job of sketching out the importance of his heritage:

Russell Wilson’s family tree is rooted in special. His grandfather was president of Norfolk State University, and his grandmother was a college professor. His uncle went to Harvard Law School and is an accomplished Washington attorney, and his father studied law at Virginia and practiced in Richmond. …

Wilson attended the Collegiate School in Richmond and played football there for Charlie McFall. Though his talent was undeniable, football seemed to have a ceiling. Tom Holliday, N.C. State’s associate head baseball coach, first saw Wilson play baseball as a junior and he had no doubts. “He was a major league baseball prospect,” Holliday said. “He was probably a football player who could maybe make football work because he was so athletic. But you could see a future in baseball.”

Wilson attended N.C. State and played both sports. Several members of his family had competed collegiately, including his father, Harrison Wilson III, who played football and baseball at Dartmouth. In fact, Harrison III attended training camp and played in the 1980 preseason with the San Diego Chargers, reportedly one of the last players cut.

Wilson’s father was a guiding influence but he became sick midway through Wilson’s time at N.C. State. Still, he followed Wilson’s exploits from afar.

Harrison Wilson III died in 2010, about the time his son was drafted to play major-league baseball. Losing his father seemed, at a crucial moment, to have further fueled the son’s drive to push for excellence.

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