The NFL loves a good revenge story. So while it may surprise some that the league decided to schedule Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle as a member of the Broncos in Week 1 on Monday Night Football, it really shouldn’t.
Though recent trends suggest such moves could happen more often in the future, including Matthew Stafford’s departure from the Lions to join the Rams prior to the 2021 season, superstar quarterbacks rarely change teams. This is especially true for a player like Wilson who will turn 34 years old in November and looks to have plenty of great football left in front of him.
However, that’s exactly what happened in March. After several years of speculation and rumors spurned in large part due to public comments made by Wilson himself and power plays by his agent Mark Rodgers, the Seahawks finally decided to move on and dealt the best quarterback in franchise history to the Broncos for two first- round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, and three veterans.
From the NFL’s perspective, Wilson’s homecoming provided a can’t-miss opportunity to launch the season with a captivating matchup pitting the nine-time Pro Bowler against coach Pete Carroll and his former team. The atmosphere at Lumen Field will undoubtedly be electric and the festivities will be unprecedented.
On September 12, Wilson will become the first quarterback to ever win 100 games with a team and then face his former employer in his first season with his new team. That mostly falls on the luck of the schedule, as the Broncos and Seahawks only play once every four years being out of conference opponents. Making the situation even more unique, this will mark the first time in NFL history that a quarterback with Wilson’s resume will play his first game with his new team against his former one.
As NFL VP of broadcasting Onnie Bose told reporters via video call on Friday, sending Wilson back to the Pacific Northwest right off the bat “felt right.” Interestingly, he also pointed to the Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s involvement hosting the Manningcast on ESPN2 as another important factor to the decision.
Manning, of course, has gone through what Wilson will soon experience entering the second stanza of his NFL career playing in the Mile High City. After sitting out the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, the Colts released him to pave the way for using the No. 1 overall pick on Stanford’s Andrew Luck and after taking his time evaluating his options, he signed with the Broncos.
While Manning didn’t face his former team in a triumphant comeback season in 2012, he eventually returned to Indianapolis in Week 7 of the 2013 season. Back at Lucas Oil Stadium, which many call “The House Peyton Built,” he expectedly received a warm reception from Colts fans, who ended up leaving happy with the home team holding on for a thrilling 39-33 victory.
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Having been there before, Manning will be able to provide an unmatched perspective on Wilson’s experience, even if their respective circumstances weren’t completely the same.
“There’s a lot to like about what they can do with that game and tell that story,” Bose said of Manning and ESPN, who will simulcast the game on ABC.
Given the far different reasons behind his departure, Wilson probably won’t receive the universal cheers that rained down on Manning when he took the field in Circle City nine years ago. After the once-beloved quarterback forced his way out of town, nobody truly knows how the 12s will welcome him back to his old stomping grounds come September.
At the same time, Wilson shouldn’t have to worry about the boo birds being near as loud as they were for Brett Favre when he returned to Lambeau Field quarterbacking the hated Vikings in 2009. In a roundabout way, the three-time MVP played musical chairs with retirement, forcing the Packers to trade him to the Jets prior to the 2008 season. The next offseason, he signed with the Vikings as a free agent.
Understandably feeling the star quarterback had betrayed them by signing with a bitter NFC North rival, Favre returned to the stadium he called home for 16 seasons with a constant smattering of boos from the crowd. He got the last laugh though, as Minnesota won both games against Green Bay that season and the Hall of Famer threw seven touchdowns and no interceptions in those contests.
Ultimately, Wilson’s return may most closely resemble Tom Brady coming back to New England during the 2021 season. The GOAT opted to leave the Patriots on his own accord to join the Buccaneers in free agency one year earlier and while fans cheered him on during warmups, the tide turned quickly when the actual game started with the crowd turning against him. Those boos dissipated as the game unfolded, however, with the Bucs narrowly winning 19-16.
But when compared to Manning, Favre, and Brady, Wilson will be dealing with a truly unparalleled situation unlike any other in NFL history. He will be playing his first regular season game running a new offense with new receivers and a new offensive line in front of him against a defense-oriented coach in Carroll who knows him better than anyone. It will be fascinating to see what Carroll dials up schematically to try to slow down his former quarterback.
Unlike the other three players, time won’t be doing Wilson any favors helping heal old wounds either. He won’t get the luxury of Manning, Favre, Brady, or even Joe Montana did having a “buffer” year before having to play their former teams, as the details behind his shocking exit will be fresh in the minds of Seahawks fans.
In general, season openers tend to be extremely unpredictable. Considering the aforementioned storylines and the history at play for this anticipated reunion, that lack of predictability will be taken up a few notches and then some when Wilson takes the field wearing a Broncos uniform four months from now against the team he once led to a Lombardi Trophy, making the choice by the NFL to put it in the Monday Night prime time spotlight a slam dunk.