San Diego conjures lots of memories for Wilson

Rivers, Wilson and Qualcomm
Philip Rivers and Harrison Wilson III, father of Russell Wilson (Getty and Dartmouth Athletics)

As the Seahawks get set to play their first real game in San Diego since 2002 — the year they returned to the NFC West after 25 years in the AFC West with the Chargers — it’s almost like homecoming weekend for Russell Wilson, too.

Seattle’s third-year quarterback is heading back to the place where his dad flirted with an NFL career, and he also will be facing the quarterback who set the standard at North Carolina State a few years before Wilson shot to stardom there.

“For me,” Wilson said, “it’s a special thing to get to go back there to Qualcomm Stadium and play in that stadium.”

In 1980, Wilson’s father, Harrison, was in Chargers training camp, rooming with future Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow.

Wilson’s dad didn’t make the team, but he did catch a touchdown pass in a preseason game. Wilson was born eight years after his dad’s failed NFL tryout, but his father shared the experience with him.

“The first football I ever touched was a San Diego Chargers football that my dad scored against the 49ers,” Wilson said, laughing at the apropos foreshadowing. “That’s how I really learned to throw a football. That was the first football I ever touched, the first football I ever threw.”

Wilson’s father was an academic fellow, having gone to Dartmouth and then law school before trying out with the Chargers, and he wore “those big, old glasses,” so Winslow and teammates used to call him “Professor.”

When Kellen Winslow Jr. was in camp with the Seahawks in 2012, he told Wilson that the senior Winslow remembered playing with Wilson’s father, who died in 2010 at age 55 after a long battle with diabetes.

Winslow Sr. told San Diego reporters this week that he sees where Russell gets the traits that have made him so successful.

“That’s his dad,” Winslow said. “He’s smart, organized and very athletic.”

“To go back there and play the Chargers will be a very special moment,” Wilson told San Diego reporters after singing the start of the “San Diego Super Chargers” song in honor of his dad.

“At the end of the day though,” Wilson said, “it’s not about that, about going back and thinking about those memories. It’s about trying to win the football game and focusing on that moment.”

The moment also will be a big one for N.C. State alums as two of their greatest players go head to head.

San Diego QB Philip Rivers starred in Raleigh from 2000 to 2003, setting various school and ACC records. Wilson hit campus four years after Rivers was gone and created his own legacy there before finishing up at Wisconsin.

Wilson, 25, said he met Rivers once but never saw much of him because Rivers lived across the country and was busy building his NFL career and a family (the 32-year-old has six kids).

“I’ve talked to him a few times and I’ve gotten to know him over the past two years a decent amount,” Wilson said. “He’s a great guy, great quarterback, great competitor and he does a great job for the Chargers.”

Rivers was similarly complimentary of Wilson.

“He’s a winner. He’s a winner,” Rivers told Seattle reporters. “He makes smart decisions and he makes big plays. … That’s what he did his whole college career and that’s obviously what he did (in the NFL) at the highest level and led (the Seahawks) to a championship.

“I’ve always pulled for him, obviously, going back to the N.C. State days,” Rivers said. “He’s a guy you pull for. I won’t be pulling for him Sunday, but I’ll pull for him all the rest of the time.”

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