It seems like every day I am approached by Knowledge Seekers on the street who ask me “WHY?? Why does everyone LOVE Russell Carrington Wilson so very much? Why does his greatness inspire us all? And why, oh why, does his story speak to my very soul? What makes him so GARSH-DARN RELATABLE??!” These are not easy questions to answer.
We all know Wilson’s heroic resume: 4x Pro Bowler (2012, 2013, 2015, 2017), Pro Bowl MVP (2015), NFL Rookie Record for Touchdown Passes (26; 2012), League Leader in Touchdown Passes (34; 2017), League Leader in Passer Rating (110.1; 2015), 2x League Leader in Game Winning Drives (5, 5; 2013, 2014), NFL Record for 4th Quarter Touchdown Passes (18; 2017), 2nd Highest Career Passer Rating in NFL History (98.8; as of 2018), 3rd Highest Career Touchdown:Interception Ratio in NFL History (2.9:1; as of 2018), 6th in Yards Per Attempt since the Merger (7.8; as of 2018), Longest Streak of Consecutive Winning Seasons as Starting Quarterback to begin a Career (6; as of 2018), NFL Record for Most Wins by a Quarterback through Six Seasons (73; 2012-2017), gained 86% of his Team’s Total Offensive Yards, and scored 97% of their Offensive Touchdowns (Both NFL Records; 2017), 3x NFC West Champion (2013, 2014, 2016), 8 Playoff Victories, 2 NFC Championships (2013, 2014), Super Bowl Championship (XLVIII)…
*catches breath* The list is very long… but is that really the reason why he is worshiped and adored by people from all over the world?
Simply put, the answer is: Comparative Mythology. DUH! We love Russell Wilson not for his vast accomplishments (which are monumentally impressive), but because his Life Story is a classic example of Mythology – It is a symbolic representation of our OWN lives.
It’s a story the people have been telling one another since the dawn of civilization itself. You and I have been conditioned throughout the centuries to LOVE Russell Wilson. Don’t believe me? Just ask Joseph Campbell… Well, I mean, you CAN’T ask him now because he died in 1987. But if you had asked him BEFORE that, he would have told you that I’m right.
Who is Joseph Campbell and why should we care?
Joseph Campbell was an American Mythologist who is widely considered to be one of the great Knowledge Seekers of the 20th Century. He devoted his life to Comparative Mythology and Comparative Religion, and his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (1949) summarized a common pattern found in the plots of Hero Stories from all over the world. Campbell called it “The Hero’s Journey” or “The Monomyth.”
His work was heavily influenced by the ideas of Sigmund Feud and Carl Jung, with Mythological Tropes and Archetypes serving as a projection of our Collective Unconscious (surprise, surprise) but we’ll get into that in a moment. For now, let’s focus on The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey – Separation, Initiation, Return
For Campbell, the Journey is what makes a Hero so heroic. This person journeys away from safety, toward adventure, they have an experience that transforms them, and then they return home. To Campbell, it is a metaphor for human existence. This article has Golden Boner Award written all over it, I can already tell.
The Journey is split into three main categories: Separation, Initiation and Return. Each section contains several common Tropes and Archetypes – These elements aren’t present in ALL Hero Stories, but basically all Hero Stories contain SOME of them. I’ll outline a few of them below with Examples from Wilson’s life, and from popular culture. As we go through them together try to come up with some parallel examples of your own from your favorite films, novels, television series, or even your own life story. After all, we can ALL be heroes… just for one day.
Part One: Separation
“I was drafted into baseball June 8th, 2010; The next day my dad passed away, June 9th… It was the biggest high of my life, and the biggest low of my life. Just like that.”
― Russell Wilson
For Wilson, the “Separation” part of the story is easy to find. His “Comfort Zone” was defined by two things: His father, and Baseball. Before his death at the age of 55, Harrison Wilson III had been a Professional Athlete himself, and was actively involved in cultivating his son’s devotion to perfecting his own skill set. Wilson’s father represents TWO common Campbellian tropes: Divine Parentage (think: Hercules, or Star-Lord), and Supernatural Guide (Mr. Miyagi)
Next comes the Call of Destiny or the Announcement of the Quest
“Go now to Hyrule Castle… There, thou will surely meet the Princess of Destiny…”
― The Great Deku Tree, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
For Wilson, the quest was to become a GREAT Professional Athlete. His destiny was evident early in life, thanks to his Divine Parentage and Supernatural Aid, as well as his obsession with Legendary Championship figures like Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter.
According to Wilson himself: While practicing Baseball with his brothers, he hit the ball over the fence, and his grandfather remarked “You’re going to be a great ballplayer one day, son.” Quest: Announced.
Sometimes the hero initially Refuses the Call to Adventure
“Listen, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire, I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. It’s such a long way from here.”
― Luke Skywalker, Star Wars
For Wilson his parentage was SO divine, and his gifts SO supernatural, that he had difficulty decided which sport he wanted to conquer – Baseball or Football. In fact, this is a dilemma he struggles with TO THIS VERY DAY!! Talk about Heroic!
By the time he transferred to the University of Wisconsin, Wilson had already turned down a Million Dollars to play Minor League Baseball TWICE, and had graduated from North Carolina State with a 4.0 GPA, WHILE playing Baseball for the Wolfpack, AND scoring 93 Total Touchdowns in three seasons as the Starting Quarterback. OK Wilson, I think you’re just showing off now…
All of this makes no mention of the fact that, at roughly 5″11″ in height, Wilson’s prospects as a Professional Quarterback were universally dismissed by so-called “experts.” Eventually, Wilson will overcome this laughable obstacle so many times that it’s hardly worth bringing up.
Next is the Journey to an Unknown Zone or Crossing a Barrier
“In the cave you fear to enter lies the treasure you seek.”
― Joseph Campbell
When Wilson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft (75th overall) he informed John Schneider and Pete Carroll that they had made the best decision of their lives, that he wouldn’t let them down, and that he would make 31 other teams regret it. Schneider probably hears this kind of stuff all the time, but only SOME of his draft picks have become Legendary, Mythically-Heroic Awesome-People who make good on their word.
This could be seen as Wilson effectively journeying away from the safety of Baseball and toward the dangerous adventure of Professional Football. OR it could be seen as a second Call of Destiny/Quest Announcement altogether!! Isn’t Mythology fascinating?
Before we get too deep into the story, let’s take a look at the Cast of Characters for this particular Hero Story. They represent common Campbellian tropes and Jungian archetypes, and don’t necessarily appear in any order.
A Woman as Temptress/Adversary
“Are you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?”
― Morpheus, The Matrix
In almost ALL stories about male characters journeying, and questing, and achieving, the Hero is confronted by a woman – usually a powerful woman. She represents an opportunity for him to prove his Maturity. If the Hero rejects the woman’s advances, she could be cast as a Temptress or Adversary.
Played by: Ashton Wilson
Protective Figure or Senex
“Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”
― Agent Kay, Men in Black
Similar to the Supernatural Guide. Jung called this archetype the “Senex” (Latin for “Old Man”) and he represents the Superego – influencing and guiding the Hero’s understanding of cultural rules. The Hero admires this person because he arms himself… with KNOWLEDGE!!
Played by: Pete Carroll
““I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old-fashioned.”
― Iron Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron
This character represents Jung’s idea of the Collective Unconscious, or Primitive Self (Id). They exhibit the emotions that the Hero doesn’t allow himself to express; typically the harsher, angrier emotions associated with primitive survival instincts. Sometimes an Adversary, but almost always at ends with the Hero until they are able to earn one another’s trust.
Played by: Marshawn Lynch
The Emotional Opposite
“Do I stand there? I never had a brother; Of here and every where. I had a sister.”
― Sebastian, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
This character falls in line with Freud and Jung’s ideas of gender roles in society, particularly the Anima or Animus. For a Masculine Hero like Wilson (particularly one who is always so calm, reserved and prepared), the Emotional Opposite would display stereotypically feminine aspects of human nature (moodiness, irrationality and indecisiveness). Of course we here at SpikedKoolAid.com do not adhere to such outdated heteronormative concepts of gender.
Played by: Colin Kaepernick
The Threshold Guardian
“Humbaba, whose shout is the flood weapon, whose utterance is fire and whose breath is death… Debility would seize anyone who penetrated his forest.”
― Enkidu, The Epic of Gilgamesh
This character is often represented by an overbearing father figure, or a horrifying monster – Of course, if you asked Freud he would tell you that those are the exact same thing. And if “being drafted by the Seahawks” represents the Crossing of the Barrier (mentioned earlier), it only makes sense that the Threshold Guardian would be the 2x NFC West Champions, and their overbearing Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (who, incidentally, represents Pete Carroll’s Shadow).
Played by: Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers
A Woman as Goddess
“I love you, Lois Lane, until the end of time.”
― Superman, All-Star Superman
Sometimes it can be a Mother Figure, but in this case it is a Love Interest. Like the Temptress before her, this character represents an opportunity for the Hero to prove his personal development. But unlike before, our Hero is now ready to shed his chastity and unleash his heroic seed. How Freudian.
Played by: Ciara
There you have it. Now, on with the story!
Part Two: Initiation
“…the first thing he told me was ‘You’re a Baller. You can play ball.’ That’s what he saw. It doesn’t matter your height, what you look like, what other people may say… if you’re good enough, you’re good enough.”
― Russell Wilson
This is where the story gets exciting. The Hero has answered the Call of Destiny, and can begin his transformation. Think of Rocky training on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or Rocky training with Apollo on Santa Monica Beach, or even Rocky training in the Siberian Wilderness. The Hero works hard to realize his potential, with exciting 80’s music playing in the background.
The Trials and Victories of Initiation
“That kid is special, man”
― Kam Chancellor, Heroic Seattle Seahawk
With guidance and support from the Senex, the Hero start to prove himself. Wilson wins 28 total games in his first two seasons – A record that will likely never be broken, and one that he continues to build on to this day. Sometimes the Hero will perform miraculous tasks, like a 21-point comeback against the Buccaneers, or a Game Winning Hail Mary against the Packers on Monday Night Football. Ultimately, he earns the respect of his peers and every fan of NFL Football.
These trials usually involve Psychological Danger
“A man who has been through bitter experiences and traveled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”
― Homer, The Odyssey
Tasks to Demonstrate Worthiness
“I think I can, I think I can”
― Little Engine that Could
Wilson and the Seahawks initially fail to defeat the Threshold Guardian (a 6-13 loss on Thursday Night Football, in which Wilson threw for only 122 yards, 0 Touchdowns and 1 Interception). This is a Campbellian Trope of its own, in which the Hero is Nearly Destroyed (The Belly of the Whale) and must recover.
Wilson and the Seahawks redeem themselves with a 42-13 victory over the 49ers (and their new Starting Quarterback, Wilson’s Emotional Opposite, Colin Kaepernick) on Monday Night Football that same year. Wilson throws for 4 Touchdowns against the eventual NFC Champions and their #2 Ranked Defense as a rookie, foreshadowing his greatness. This momentous victory shifts the balance of the rivalry, and also gives Pete Carroll his first NFL Victory against his own Collective Unconscious/Shadow. Pretty cool, huh?!
The following season, Wilson and the Seahawks win the NFC West Championship, clinch Home Field Advantage throughout the Playoffs, defeat Drew Brees and the Saints in the Divisional round, and set up…
The Confrontation with the Father Figure/Monster; Approval of Newfound Maturity
“You seem to delight in seeing other people suffer… Well, now it’s your turn… See, it’s me who’s going to stop you.”
― Goku, Dragon Ball Z
Part Three: The Return
“…You never take it for granted, and you just want to find a way to get there again.”
― Russell Wilson
Sadly, in modern story-telling, this portion of the Journey is occasionally glossed over. Today, when the Hero defeats the bad guy, or wins the girl, or finds the treasure, that usually represents the END of the story. In Ancient Myth, however, the Hero’s struggle to integrate BACK into society can be just as challenging as the Journey itself (Odysseus). Unfortunately, this article is already stupidly-long, so we’ll have to do some glossing of our own.
At this point, the Hero Achieves Enlightenment (Revelation/Apotheosis)
“Dragonborn. It is you. Welcome to High Hrothgar.”
― Arngeir, Skyrim
The Hero sometimes Takes Possession of an Object Signifying his Apotheosis (The Ultimate Boon)
“Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England.”
― Arthurian Legend
There is a Symbolic Crossing Back from the Land of Adventure into the “Real World”
“Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.”
― Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings
“The prejudices people feel about each other disappear when they get to know each other.”
― Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek
Wilson has now become a GREAT Professional Athlete, and symbolically achieved Godhood – which is what Apotheosis means. That’s cool and all, but in a way his Journey is still not complete. Freud and Jung won’t let him off the hook until he reconciles with, and understands, his Shadow (Collective Unconscious, Darth Vader) and Emotional Opposite (Anima, Princess Leia). The Hero (Consciousness, Luke) acknowledges these opposing aspects within himself. Only then can he achieve Harmony (Integrated Self, Jedi Knighthood). Whoa.
Finally the Hero can Return to Society and use his newfound Maturity to Find Acceptance
“It’s the greatest gift. Playing Football is pretty cool… But there’s something more important.”
― Russell Wilson
And Everyone Lives Happily Ever After
“Mythology is the vehicle through which the individual finds a sense of identity and place in the world.”
― Joseph Campbell
This story has been perpetuated throughout the ages not because it’s a story about Russell Wilson. It’s a story about stories. I could have easily written an identical article about Pete Carroll, or Bobby Wagner, or Paul Allen, or any other Legendary Heroic Figure.
I could write an updated article about Wilson where his Shadow is played by Doug Baldwin, or Richard Sherman, or even Future. The Supernatural Aid could be the Nano-Bubbles found within Reliant Recovery Water. The dreaded 2nd and Goal play in Super Bowl XLIX could be a new “Belly of the Whale” scenario. I could point out similar patterns in characters who might not be considered “Heroic” (Alexander the Great, Lex Luthor, Michael Vick) It never has to end! Just like this article!
A Hero can go through this journey many, many times! It’s why life and Football are so exciting, and why literally everyone loves Russell Wilson!
We see this cycle repeating all around us. The Treasure might not always be a Trophy, or a Goddess, or a Golden Boner Award. It can be the experience itself, and the opportunity to share it with others. Sometimes being able to admit our own limitations is Heroic enough. So, for someone like Harbaugh, Kaepernick, or 49er Fans, the story itself IS the Ultimate Boon. Isn’t that nice?
“I don’t think we’re really seeking the meaning of life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”
― Joseph Campbell
Ultimately, a life story is better than a list of accomplishments, because the story is so much richer. You can have a simple life and still go through a similar pattern as the Monomyth. We’re all Heroes, struggling to achieve our goals, and longing for Knowledge.
Thanks so much for reading, And as Joseph Campbell would say:
Follow your bliss…
…and Kill… Danny… O’neil…………………………….