Mark Rodgers has met a lot of young men, talented men, coddled men, men with egos, and he is confident on this point, that Russell Wilson, of all the athletes he has seen come along, is special.
Rodgers has stood at Wilson’s side for four years. He has been in his home, with his family and at his wedding. Rodgers knew Wilson when he attended college, when he played minor-league baseball for teams called the Dust Devils and the Tourists and when he was picked by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, underestimated and discounted because he was only 5-foot-11 instead of 6-foot-5.
Rodgers tells coaches, reporters and sponsors the same thing he tells his wife; the same thing he tells his kids, his friends if they ask, that yes, Russell Wilson really is the unbelievably nice, earnest guy he seems to be.
“He’s not overly impressed by who he is,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think he believes what he’s doing is particularly extraordinary.”
Rodgers is Wilson’s agent, attorney, advisor and business manager, a constant in his sports career. With the exception of Wilson, Rodgers' agency, Frontline Athlete Management, of which he is a partner, represents only baseball players, including Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett and Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis among dozens of others.
Cynicism comes with his profession, the way a salty smell comes with being a fisherman. To describe his client, Rodgers uses variations of words like transparent, sincere, organic. The two met in Raleigh, N.C., when Wilson attended North Carolina State and was contemplating playing both football and baseball.
“He blew me away,” the Florida-based Rodgers said. “I’ve been doing this since 1987 and this was the only time a player called me. I’ve had referrals, but I’ve never had a player call me up directly and say, ‘I found you.’ As I drove up to the baseball stadium to meet him, I saw him sitting there waiting for me. Waiting for me. I knew immediately, he’s different.”
Which is to say, Rodgers does not lose a wink of sleep worrying about whether Wilson is going to fail a drug test or get arrested for driving under the influence or cause a Twitter controversy with an untoward, impulsive remark.
Wilson, now the Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback, is Seattle’s accidental hero, a would-be backup who joined a perennial loser and, in a year’s time, helped turn it into one of the NFL’s best teams. Last Sunday night, he led the Seahawks to a bumpy victory over defending conference champions the San Francisco 49ers on national television in his team’s first home game of the season. It was not his most impressive performance, but left no question of his meaning to Seattle.
Wilson, who is 24, is this town’s No. 1 sports star and unlike others who have preceded him in recent history. Ichiro Suzuki, Gary Payton, Billy Joe Hobert have all led winning teams, but none, it can be argued, achieved Wilson’s combination of warmth, perceived integrity and likeability. In a short time, he has parlayed those qualities into a brand identity that is unique in the NFL, and among professional athletes.
“The general public has become skeptical of athletes,” Rodgers conceded. “Truthfully, the athletes, the owners, the administrators, can only blame themselves. Trust is no longer unconditional. Unfortunately there has been so much bad news off the field. So many players get in trouble with the law. I’m embarrassed at times. You can’t turn your back on it and say, ‘It’s not my client.’ It affects us all.”
“Russell Wilson is someone who can make people believe again that professional athletes can truly be heroes. As a parent [Rodgers has five children], sometimes you cringe when your children’s heroes do things that are unsavory… I’ve represented hundreds of players in my life, and Russell truly embodies the best qualities of all of them.”
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