Russell Wilson will take snaps next Sunday evening in Super Bowl XLVIII for the Seattle Seahawks, and no doubt many in Wisconsin will be rooting for the second-year quarterback to best Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
After all, Wilson led the University of Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in 2011. He’s a Badger. He’s ours.
Or is he?
Wilson was born in Ohio before moving to Virginia, where he went to high school. He then went to North Carolina to play football at North Carolina State University. He redshirted his freshman year, and then played three full seasons for the Wolfpack. He spent four years on that campus in Raleigh.
When he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine following his 2010 season, and his coaches at N.C. State weren’t thrilled with his dalliances with Major League Baseball, he was released from his scholarship.
This is where Wisconsin comes in. On June 27, 2011 he committed to the Badgers. He quarterbacked Bucky in the Rose Bowl less than seven months later on Jan. 2, 2012. Two weeks after that game, he was down in Florida training for the combine.
Then, he was drafted into the NFL.
So … how does this make Wilson "ours?"
Adopting a player is what sports are all about. Few major college athletes are from the cities or states where they play. Even fewer pro athletes ever are.
What’s interesting is that where you’re from matters far less than the uniform you wear.
I was first introduced to this phenomenon in my youth growing up in Chicago, where Chi-town born and bred Isiah Thomas became a pariah, a man literally hated by the town he was raised in, because he dared to beat up Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan, who was born in Brooklyn mind you, was raised in North Carolina and attended college in North Carolina. He now owns a pro basketball team in that state. Needless to say, Jordan is North Carolina’s favorite son. But, Chicago definitely calls him its own.
As I got older, I saw the same thing happen with Donovan McNabb, born and raised on the South Side but vilified as he quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles to wins over the beloved Chicago Bears.
I see it now with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. All that state pride and fist-pumping at his love of the Brewers and Bucks went out the window as soon as he started beating down the Green Bay Packers.
I get that, to an extent. You want your team to win. But how do you come to loathe an athlete whose family and friends likely still live in that city, and they probably come home more often than any of your adopted heroes?
It’s a weird thing, this "ownership" of our athletes.
Wilson spent just a fraction of his 25 years on this earth in Wisconsin, and he was only there – really – to play football and raise his draft stock. Once that was accomplished, he was gone.
Now, he is an alumnus. He was part of a really good Badgers team. He’s a smart dude, too. He’ll always represent the school and the state. After all – one of his corporate sponsors, American Family Insurance – is based in Madison.
But he’s also a N.C. State alumnus, and that university actually has far more claim to him than Wisconsin.
I’m not saying you can’t root for Wilson, or shouldn’t. He’s a Badger. So is his teammate, Seahawks linebacker O’Brien Schofield. Schofield, an Illinois native, spent 2005-09 in Madison.
Do we love Wilson more than another Seahawks teammate, Chris Maragos, a Racine native and another Badgers player? Maragos started his college career at Western Michigan (2005-06) before transferring back home (2007-09).
Or, what about Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball?
Ball is a Kansas native and went to high school in Missouri, and is one of the best running backs to ever come through Madison, which is no small feat.
If anything, fans across this state should rally around him more so than Wilson. Shouldn’t they?
Or is it because Wilson is a quarterback, and the additional adoration just comes with it?
Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I see more Wilson Seahawks jerseys than Schofield, Maragos or Ball when I’m out in about in Milwaukee, Southeastern Wisconsin or around Green Bay.
But of the four, the state has less invested in Wilson, less of a connection. But yet, so many say that he’s "ours." He doesn’t feel like it, though.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.