EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — He came into the game as the other quarterback - the undersized and underestimated foil to the record-setting, commercial-pitching Denver Broncos star, Peyton Manning.
It took only one half of Seattle's 43-8 win in Super Bowl XLVIII, however, for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to upstage Manning on the game's biggest stage, dialing up a cooler, better-orchestrated performance.
He used his underdog status as fuel, as he has done in his football career, whether related to his size (5 feet 11 inches), his career choice (deemed better fit for baseball), his draft status (sixth quarterback selected in 2012) or his marketability (tucked away in the Pacific Northwest).
"My dad used to always tell me, 'Russ, why not you?'" Wilson said. "And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you even though you are 5 foot 11, and you can go a long way."
Indeed, Wilson did not receive the Super Bowl's most valuable player recognition, but he outplayed the league's MVP, Manning, finishing with a sparkling line: 206 yards, 2 touchdowns, 18 of 25 passing, including 11 completions in a row in the second half. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll considered it "a perfect football game."
Wilson, 12 years Manning's junior, appeared in complete control, while Manning - from the moment a high snap slipped past his fingertips on the opening play from scrimmage, leading to a safety - appeared woefully out of sync.
"At the end of the day, I wasn't playing Peyton Manning," Wilson said. "I was doing my job and doing all the things I needed to do to help the offense move the ball down the field."
In the two weeks leading up to the game, much of the talk about Seattle's offense focused on its punishing running back, Marshawn Lynch, and how Lynch's running ability could keep the pace in the Seahawks' favor (and the ball out of Manning's hands).
Wilson seemed easily forgotten or dismissed, his ability framed as a game manager: competent and savvy but hardly remarkable. Analysts debated Manning's legacy, or Richard Sherman's talkativeness, or Lynch's "Beast Mode" impact. By Sunday, did anyone remember that Wilson delivered the go-ahead touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 in Seattle's defeat of San Francisco in the NFC title game?
Carroll did. On Sunday, he kept the ball in Wilson's hands, forgoing Lynch (who rushed for only 39 yards on 15 attempts) for his second-year quarterback, who passed 13 times in the first quarter alone.
Wilson is accustomed to playing the underdog role. He was a two-star recruit coming out of the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va. His size was deemed an impediment. He played two sports at North Carolina State, was drafted as an outfielder by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and played two seasons of minor league baseball. Plenty of people pushed him to pursue baseball.
Wilson, though, chose a different route. After he had an impressive postgraduate season at Wisconsin, Seattle selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft. It was not long after the Seahawks had already paid a considerable sum to sign the free agent Matt Flynn.
By August 2012, though, Wilson was starting for the Seahawks, quietly building a following while two other rookie quarterbacks - Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III - received the bulk of the adulation early on. A third young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, became an overnight sensation for San Francisco en route to starting Super Bowl XLVII. But this season, Wilson -with 3,357 yards passing, 26 touchdown passes and a 101.2 quarterback rating - probably had a better year than any of them.
"I had so many people telling me I couldn't do it," Wilson said. "I wanted to go against the odds."
In the first half against Denver, Wilson spread the ball around to his receivers, probing for weaknesses, rarely attempting anything more than 10 yards downfield. When he did go deep - like a 37-yard pass dropped right into the arms of receiver Jermaine Kearse along the left sideline in the second quarter - it was a thing of beauty.
Wilson's arm continued to make plays, even with the Seahawks ahead by 29 points. He fired a touchdown pass on a short slant route by Kearse, who spun away from two defenders and scampered in from 23 yards.
On the sideline, Wilson had his helmet off, his thick mass of curls looking like a tuft of black smoke. As a junior in high school, Wilson recalled last week, he grew his hair out en route to winning a state championship. In a show of solidarity, his father, Harry, grew his hair out, too.
Harry Wilson died in 2010 of complications related to diabetes. He never saw his son choose football over baseball, get drafted, win the starting job, win a Super Bowl. But on Sunday, Russell Wilson's hat was off as he ran to midfield to shake Manning's hand, after winning another title.
Wilson said later: "I guess I'm going to have to get a haircut now."