SEATTLE — Russell Wilson had just seen a maestro quarterback display the art of a clutch drive.
He responded with a masterpiece of his own.
Peyton Manning did what future Hall of Famers do — accomplish the unexplainable.
He drove Denver 80 yards in less than 41 seconds against the NFL’s most fearsome pass defense to send Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch into overtime.
When it came Wilson’s turn to answer, he channeled the legends he grew up watching — Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter.
His game-winning 80-yard drive was in their league. He picked apart a Denver defense that had allowed just three points in the second half. Twice on third down, he scrambled for a first down when the play broke down.
He willed the Seahawks to victory.
Sunday was the latest example that Russell Wilson has “it.” For a pro athlete, it’s that rare ability to not just perform when the pressure is on, but to relish it.
“I live for those moments, and our team does as well,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t wait for that moment, when you have to go down the field and make plays.”
That’s veteran stuff. Wilson’s giddiness behind the postgame interview podium was the only clue that he’s 25 years old.
Along with his good-guy image and midweek visits to Seattle Children’s Hospital, Wilson also has the cold-blooded competitive ruthlessness that great athletes have.
“Russell is a competitor,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “I’m pretty sure in his mind, he didn’t want Peyton Manning to come into his house and steal his show.”
Wilson said the key to performing under pressure is to play “with an edge, but not falling off the edge.”
Manning even tipped his cap to Wilson, who was 9 when Manning made his NFL debut in 1998.
“He made some plays in that overtime series,” Manning said. “Credit to him. That was a good drive.”
That Seattle’s offense struggled for much of Sunday made the game-winning drive more impressive. With 9:35 left in the second quarter, Jermaine Kearse was still the Seahawks leading passer, thanks to a 17-yard throwback play to Wilson.
Seattle’s inability to get away from its own end zone directly or indirectly resulted in nine Broncos points in the fourth quarter.
In spite of those struggles, Wilson was there when the Seahawks needed a player to put them on his shoulders in overtime.
For all the bad news the NFL has endured in recent weeks, Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch showed why the game is so beloved.
You had a master going against a prodigy; one of the biggest stars of the past decade versus one with perhaps the brightest future.
After a game 20 years from now, a quarterback who was 5 on Sunday will talk about his unflappable leadership in willing his team to victory.
Maybe he’ll talk about growing up watching Russell Wilson.