RALEIGH — With the Super Bowl drawing nigh and the hoopla machine cranked to 11, the nations eyes are squarely trained on Russell Wilson Raleighs semi-favorite son, the hometown hero who split town.
To the haters of the world, the Oak City has no claim to the man who wore No. 16. Never mind that his diploma says Raleigh on it. Never mind that he played three seasons in Wolfpack Red. Never mind that he either threw or ran for 93 touchdowns with an NCS for N.C. State on his helmet, second-best in ACC history.
If you pay attention to all the snark on social media, a State fan cheering for the Seahawks quarterback is like: 1. a deadbeat dad taking credit for his kids graduation; 2. Castro claiming the boat people; 3. ignorant.
All the trolls can remember is Wilson transferred to Wisconsin and finished his college career as a Badger, playing for Cheeseheads.
Remember when NCSU kicked Russell Wilson off their football team? to quote a typical tweet. Now watch them try and claim him.
Of course, we will. And we should.
He didnt run screaming from Raleigh, flipping us the finger. He didnt hold a prime-time news conference announcing hed be taking his talents to Madison. He didnt complain, A-Rod style, that he didnt want to be surrounded by a bunch of kids.
A standoff that could have boiled over into nastiness ended with a quiet, amicable divorce.
A pack of badgers
Just last month, Wilson introduced himself on national television as coming from a whole pack of badgers, sending Raleigh a shout-out from the NFL.
Its hard, almost impossible, to dislike the guy even after he showed Raleigh his backside. He makes weekly visits to a childrens hospital in Seattle. He holds passing camps around the country, including in Raleigh, and sends proceeds for diabetes research. He even gets name-checked in an Eminem/Rihanna song.
Everyone loves this kid, said ex-Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell. I love this kid.
Raleigh should, too.
I wont rehash the details of why he left or tell you what to think about them. For the uninitiated, the complexities revolve around Wilson being a two-sport athlete and ex-coach Tom OBrien having another NFL-bound quarterback in the wings. My colleague Luke DeCock summed all that up after the Wilson-Wolfpack split in 2011:
Pick a perspective, he wrote. N.C. State just let a potential Heisman Trophy candidate walk off campus and into some other lucky coachs arms. Or, a football coach finally put his foot down with a player who had held the program hostage for two years while he fiddled with another sport.
You never leave
I think that in a lot of ways, you never leave your old stomping grounds. Theres a lot of Reggie Jackson still in Oakland. They might not claim him given more recent headlines, but doesnt everybody picture Roger Clemens in a Red Sox uniform?
Ive been at The N&O for 10 years now, three times longer than anyplace else. But I hope that if I do anything notable, they remember me fondly back in Fayetteville and Fort Worth, the towns I left to get here. Theyre in my blood, and Ill bet Raleigh runs through Wilsons veins as much as Madison.
So lets do the same for the guy they called too short to play pro football, now playing it on the biggest stage. I bet hell wave back at us, an important stop on his long road.