Fake typo brews bustle over Russel(l) Wilson billboards

akenney@newsobserver.comJanuary 30, 2014 

A billboard battle over Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is bringing national attention to a road-side ad on Capital Boulevard near Wake Forest.

On Wednesday, the debate first appeared on a digital billboard near the intersection of Rolling Acres Road and Capital Boulevard. For 8 seconds at a time, the board read, “Proud to call you one of our own, Russel!” (sic), next to a picture of a badger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot, and the Twitter hashtag “GoBadgers.”

The quickly infamous “Russel” billboard, however, was cleverly engineered with a false typo in order to go viral, according to a representative of Fairway Advertising.

By Thursday, the same billboard had another Wilson-themed variation, and another typo: “Hey, Wizconsin, Our State, Our Russell #GoPack.”

Paul Hickman, general manager in North Carolina for Fairway Advertising, declined to identify who paid for the ads but he confirmed that his company’s doing business with two sides of a feud.

“All I can tell you is we’re enjoying being paid for this entertainment,” Hickman said. “We’re under a confidentiality agreement. Nobody wants anybody knowing who’s doing what.”

Hickman wouldn’t let on much more about the source of the ads. Many N.C. State fans suspect the billboard might actually be the work of rival North Carolina and not Wisconsin.

Hickman said he believed the “Russel” misspelling was intentional.

“My opinion was they were wanting to draw attention, but they never realized how much attention it would draw,” Hickman said. “FOX Sports, the NFL (web site) – I was like, ‘My God, it’s gone global, over a spelling thing.’ 

The story has its roots in the conflict over which college gets to “claim” Wilson, who played for both Wisconsin and N.C. State before getting picked by the Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft.

Wilson started for three seasons for the Wolfpack, graduated from N.C. State University, and finished his college career with the Badgers while taking graduate classes at Wisconsin in 2011. He has publicly claimed his affinity for both schools, even going as far as saying he was from “a whole Pack of Badgers” on a Sunday Night Football telecast last season.

The debate is not confined to the billboard. Jennifer Broerman, who’s with the Wisconsin Triangle Alumni Chapter, said every time she wears a Wisconsin sweatshirt, an N.C. State fan will tell her to “give us back our quarterback.”

Broerman hadn’t heard about the “Russel” billboard until Thursday but didn’t think a Wisconsin fan would intentionally misspell Wilson’s first name.

“I think everyone wants to be recognized for their part in his story,” said Broerman, 34, who lives in Raleigh. “He’s so likeable, it’s hard not to want to claim him.”

The first, pro-Wisconsin billboard went up on Wednesday, and quickly picked up steam on Twitter and caught the attention of national sports media outlets such as Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and NFL.com.

The counterpoint came on Thursday. There’s also “speculation,” Hickman said, that the war of words could spread to the Wisconsin market.

“You’ve got to do something fun like this occasionally,” Hickman said. “They’re laughing. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of laughing going on.”

Joe Giglio contributed to this report.

Kenney: 919-829-4870

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