SEATTLE – Six years ago in Chicago, a star was born and the Seahawks were forever changed.
Russell Wilson remembers it well.
“Feels like yesterday,” Seattle’s Pro Bowl quarterback said Friday.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recalled the game as a special moment for his young team and its rookie QB.
“That was really kind of the jump start for us,” Carroll said this week.
It was Dec. 2, 2012, on a sunny afternoon at Soldier Field. Seattle was a scuffling, 6-5 football team in need of a spark. With a late deficit in the final minutes they turned to Wilson, and he responded.
His teammates showered him with praise afterward.
“He’s a talent, man. He’s fun to watch,” Seahawks corner Richard Sherman said of Wilson following the 23-17 overtime win over the Bears. “Ninety-seven yards (on the go-ahead drive), I just can’t be more proud of the kid.”
Wilson had been used mostly as a game manager to that point, asked to hand the ball often to running back Marshawn Lynch and not make mistakes.
“He does everything perfect,” receiver Golden Tate said of Wilson after the win, describing how Wilson likes to text teammates tips and motivation. “I almost think he’s a perfect person.”
No one knew it at the time, but the emotional victory was the first step in a five-year playoff run that would deliver back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl and the franchise’s first title.
“That was a big game,” Carroll said, looking back. “It was a big game for the coaching staff to recognize that we needed to let loose for Russell and not hold back.”
The Seahawks return Monday to Chicago for the first time since that fateful December day. Sherman, Tate and a host of others have moved on from Seattle. A story in Sports Illustrated last week describes a rift between Wilson and his teammates leading to the eventual unraveling of the team’s Super Bowl roster.
Carroll dismissed that report and Wilson has had nothing but positive things to say about his current and former teammates.
The Seahawks playoff run ended last season. But the 2012 win over the Bears is a reminder of how it all began. The team came together behind Wilson, and his late-game magic bailed out the defense almost as often as the defense shut down opponents.
“I think it gave us clarity on who we could be,” Wilson said. “It taught us how to really go on the road and really be prepared at the highest level.”
Wilson led the offense onto the field with 3:40 left in the game, down 14-10, with the ball at their own 3-yard line. The rookie orchestrated a 13-play drive, throwing 11 times, scrambling for a 13-yard gain, handing to Lynch once, and finally finding Tate with 20 seconds left for a 14-yard score.
“I just told the guys, ‘This is what the season comes down to, right here and right now,’ ” Wilson said afterward.
His heroics didn’t end there.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for a 56-yard gain in front of Sherman on the first play of the next drive to set up a tying field goal.
The game was off to overtime.
Seattle won the toss, and thanks to Wilson, the Bears would never get a chance.
“He’s just so beautifully poised and so confident that it gives himself a chance to play at this level,” Carroll said of his young signal caller at the time.
Wilson and the Seahawks took over at the 20-yard line after a touchback.
A steady diet of Lynch and Wilson runs left Seattle with a 3rd-and-10 at the Bears’ 25, well within kicker Steven Hauschka’s range.
But Wilson wasn’t thinking about a field goal. He found Doug Baldwin for 12 yards and a first down. Then he hooked up with Sidney Rice for a touchdown and the ball game.
“It was extraordinary, exquisite poise,” Carroll said after the win. “There were so many plays where he had to do something special.”
Wilson had led comebacks before against Green Bay and New England, but those were wild, frantic finishes. This was sustained, high-level execution in crunch time.
Carroll remembers the moment now as if a light went off.
“We were treating him like a young quarterback that needed to be kind of corralled,” he said. “It was in the middle of that game, I remember saying to the coaches, ‘Let’s go, cut him loose. Don’t hold him back. Let him have a chance to do it all.’ And he pretty much did.”
Sherman wanted everyone to know afterward that Seattle’s young gunslinger was just as good — if not better — than the more heralded quarterbacks taken ahead of him in the draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
“They’re going to hype who they’re going to hype,” Sherman said. “(Wilson has) beat the Bears, the Packers, the Patriots. You show me another quarterback with his resume, and I’ll show you a great quarterback. …
“He’s a great quarterback, and he’s probably a little better than those guys.”
The win was the first of six in a row for Seattle, including a road playoff victory against Griffin and Washington.
Wilson led another comeback in Atlanta the week after that, guiding the Seahawks on an eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with 34 seconds left. But, like the Bears, the Falcons got in position quickly for a field goal. This time it was a game-winner as time expired.
Wilson threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 60 more yards and another score.
“We had high, high hopes for the rest of the season,” he said afterward. “When the game was over, I was very disappointed. But walking back into the tunnel, I got so excited about next year. The resilience we showed was unbelievable.”
Wilson and the Seahawks had reason for excitement. The Lombardi Trophy came home to Seattle the following season.
Wilson brings a much different team to Chicago this time. He is one of only six players remaining from the 2012 season. The Seahawks are once again young and inexperienced, scuffling a bit after an opening loss, and in desperate need of a spark.
Perhaps they’ll turn to their quarterback in search of an encore.
“Those are great memories,” Wilson said Friday of the 2012 win. “Hopefully we can make another one this week.”