Wilson Scrambles Past Flutie, Running Like Tark
The Saints defenders came ripping in from all sides, and Russell Wilson, Seattle’s dashing little quarterback, was swallowed up in a tangled mob of pass rushers and retreating blockers. But the Saints didn’t catch him. They couldn’t find him. It was like trying to pin down a prairie dog.
Wilson ducked down his hole then popped up in another patch of turf and took off. “Hey! Over here, boys!” And a certain sack had become another good Seattle gain.
It’s always that way when you’re chasing Wilson. He disappears on you. He slips away. He operates out there amidst a whole network of hidden tunnels. Then he surfaces and slings the ball downfield or kills you with his legs. For defenses it’s a maddening day on the job.
“He’s an elusive quarterback,” said New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, a 34-7 loser to the Seahawks. “He’s a scrambler, and when he scrambles he’s still looking downfield. He made a lot of good throws that created a lot of openings.”
Wilson has the Seahawks at 12-1 now in the standings, tops in the NFL, and the other day I heard some radio guy going on and comparing him to another dasher one from ages ago – Doug Flutie. It was a convenient analogy but not necessarily an accurate one.
Flutie was a collegiate whirlwind, a Heisman performer, a 5’9” miracle maker who had some shiny moments in a lengthy but undistinguished NFL career. Only 66 starts over 12 seasons, separated by an eight-year stint in the Canadian League. The 5’11” Wilson has already become a much finer pro in only his second year. A bigger arm, a stronger presence. Maybe more majestic is too strong a term but maybe it isn’t.
With Flutie it always felt like “Here comes little Doug.” With Wilson you get the feeling you’re watching the emergence of an All-Pro. In both cases it’s interesting to look back at the old quotes, how both players’ dearth of size was scrutinized when it came to future NFL employment.
“At first I thought it was cute and a nice angle,” Flutie told a Milwaukee paper during his free agent tryout with the 1986 Packers. “By my senior year I was fed up.
“It’s not necessarily tough to see, but to find yourself a lane to throw the ball, sometimes it is hard….I’ve never had a problem with balls being knocked down. I get my share. But every time Doug Flutie gets a ball knocked down, he’s too short. Every time John Elway gets a ball knocked down, it’s a great defensive play.”
Former Bears QB Jim McMahon once called him “America’s Midget,” but most of America still pulled hard for Flutie and liked the way he ducked and darted and whipped it around out there, trying to play bigger than he was. It was a fun act to watch, but McMahon was right if he meant that Flutie wasn’t causing defenses to tremble.
Wilson does cause anxiety for pro defenses. He rattles them when the main play call is successful and when it isn’t. He doesn’t need a pocket. He can escape and deliver it on the move with great accuracy. He makes cool decisions with the ball. His turnovers are low, and he’s 22-6 as a starter with a road playoff win.
"He's what you call an outlier," former Dallas Cowboys exec Gil Brandt told ESPN early last season, after Wilson had captured the Seattle starting job. "You go broke looking for those guys. For every guy that you draft that's three inches and four inches below the accepted minimum, 99 of 100 are going to fail. He's a real exception.”
I like the Fran Tarkenton comparison much better when it comes to Wilson. Tark, an act from long ago, forever labeled as the scrambler, but there’s no denying his command on the field. I look at Wilson doing the job for Seattle and I see that same command. And then I remember Fran spinning out of the pocket with two eyes still peering downfield, looking for Foreman or Gilliam or Voigt…that spider sense warning him of Deacon Jones or Jack Youngblood or any other killer coming up from behind.
“Quarterbacks should never run except from terror,” Tark’s old coach Norm van Brocklin used to say early on. He stopped saying it after Tarkenton stuck it in the endzone and won some games and bailed out the Vikings a few dozen times.
His other coach, Bud Grant, had such angst over Tarkenton being labeled a “scrambler” that it actually short-circuited his brain during an interview before Super Bowl XIII – Miami versus Minnesota.
“Scrambler is not the right word,” Grant insisted. “When Fran runs around back there he is trying to salvage a play or buying time until something than the original play develops.”
And while we’re at it, those aren’t pickles – they’re cucumbers soaked in vinegar brine for a few weeks.
“That’s how I judge a quarterback,” says Tark. “Either you make plays or you don’t. I don’t even want to talk about mechanics.”
Doug Flutie made a few plays in his day. Wilson is making lots now. And these days the folks in Seattle couldn’t care less about the mechanics.
Columnist Tom Danyluk joins FootballNation after nine years with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can find on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Please contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.