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Russell Wilson Has Nowhere To Hide Now

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 27: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos confers with teammates on the sideline during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Outthrough here.

If you pretend that the Houston Texans don’t exist, and you should, the Denver Broncos are in direr shape than any other NFL franchise right now. This is because they went all-in on quarterback Russell Wilson this past offseason in a deal that has now set their rebuilding clock so far back that even the fucking Webb Telescope can’t see it. Every disaster season in the NFL gets its own signature moment, and these Broncos delivered theirs a Sunday ago in the form of this indelible sideline fracas:

There are three main characters in this clip, all of them revealing their true character in a scant nine seconds. You have Broncos defensive tackle Mike Purcell getting righteously pissed at Russell Wilson, demanding that Wilson hold himself accountable for an offense that continually forces Purcell and his unit to win every game on their own. You have Wilson attempting to quietly play off Purcell’s outburst, as if the two of them are just having a normal conversation about where to find a good salad. And then you’ve got future former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett in the foreground, straining to ignore the scene going on behind him while he scripts another 15 toss sweeps in his head. It’s such a concise portrait of an unfolding disaster that it should run on a loop in Canton. And the beauty of that moment is that Wilson STILL kept trying to downplay it after the fact:

It’s difficult for me to think of Russell Wilson as a flesh-and-blood person and not as a walking advertisement for Omega-3 gummy supplements. But there IS a human aspect to his current pattern of denial that makes perfect sense. I remember two definitive investigations into Wilson’s contentious relationship with the Seahawks that shared a common theme, which is that Seattle loved to spoil Wilson, often to the resentment of his teammates. From ESPN back in 2017:

After the Super Bowl against Denver, team management "fell in love with Russell," in the words of a former high-level staffer; defensive players would see him in executives' offices and wonder, "Why not me?" Pettiness grew.

And then from The Athletic this past offseason:

Carroll avoided criticizing Wilson in front of the media and players, which bothered some of Wilson’s teammates. Assistant coaches would critique Wilson in coaches’ meetings, and Carroll would stop them: “No, no, no. We’ve got to change that for him. We’ve got to make sure that’s right for him.”

“Russell could do no wrong,” one former team executive said.

“Pete was his biggest fan,” former running backs coach Sherm Smith said.

Look back on Wilson’s tenure in Seattle and you see a run of productivity that all but justified the Seahawks indulging their quarterback, treating him as special while the roster around him fell to pieces. In Seattle, Wilson was both talented enough and comfortable enough to take the load onto his own shoulders and win games that Seattle has no business otherwise winning. Letting him go full cheeseball anytime he wished was merely the cost of doing business, and a negligible one at that. If his teammates had a problem with all of that enabling, so be it.

But sometime last season, and likely well before that, the cost of enabling Wilson grew. Seahawks management realized that they couldn’t coddle Wilson and have it pay off the enormous dividends that it once did: not at his age, and not with his body quickly falling into disrepair. So they shipped him to a Denver team that has failed to realize, despite giving Wilson an insane contract extension the second his plane landed, that perhaps the ONLY way to get Wilson to excel is to treat him like he’s the world’s most special person.

I’m playing armchair psychologist here, which is a very hacky sportswriter move, but bear with me. Back in Seattle, everyone accepted that handling Wilson with kid gloves was Just The Way Things Are. His teammates may have hated it, but at least they were used to it, so much so that I don’t believe that Wilson himself ever imagined a situation where an organization would treat him any other way. And why would he? Russell Wilson is a Hall of Famer, a Super Bowl champion, and one of the most entertaining quarterbacks ever to play the game. Such men usually get the red carpet rolled out for them anywhere they go, with a fat salary to match. They often reward their teams for it in the long run.

But right now in Denver, Wilson finds himself in a spot to which he’s unaccustomed: where his shortcomings aren’t so easy to hide, and where he’s playing alongside teammates for whom elevating a QB in clear disrepair is not Just The Way Things Are and never ought to be. Just this week, Tom Pelissero reported that Wilson had “lost” members of the locker room, but it’s likely that he never won that locker room over to begin with. In fact, it’s likely that Russell Wilson has NEVER had to win over any NFL locker room. With the Seahawks, Wilson could be grudgingly forgiven for his less appealing qualities because his play redeemed it. In Denver, he’s as blank a slate as he is off the field, with no on-field heroics or rings to wash away his bullshit. The effect has been both immediate and hilarious.

What grown man has a birthday party, much less expects ALL of his co-workers to attend it on a rare day off? Mike Purcell didn’t play with Wilson in Seattle, and could give half a fuck about how things were done there. Ditto every other player on the Broncos roster. These men owe Wilson nothing, and yet he remains under the impression that everyone who plays with him or coaches him ought to be karmically indebted to him for one reason or another.

He’s an egomaniacal asshole, is what I’m saying.

And you can get away with that when you’re good. When you’re playing the way Wilson is playing right now, with him unable to exploit the edges of the field the way he once so deftly could, you cannot. Meanwhile, Hackett remains a painful example of a coach who was born to be a coordinator and nothing past that, so he has no idea what the fuck do about any of these bizarre dynamics. He doesn’t even know how to call a timeout, so what chance does he have of mollifying a team at war with itself? There are a lot of reasons that Wilson has been terrible this season. He’s old, his burst is gone, and he has no one to throw the ball to. But there’s also a Turn Those Machines Back On! comportment to him that suggests that he never expected anything to go wrong for him, nor did he expect anyone around him to point out his role in those failures. It’s dysfunction run through a surrealist blender.

None of this has been pleasant to watch. You know this because you’ve had to watch the Broncos in far too many national TV slots already this season (they have been mercifully flexed off of Sunday night a week from now), but the melancholy runs deeper than that. I have extremely fond memories of Russell Wilson playing football. You do, too. It’s not fun to watch those memories get replaced by the deteriorating, needy man that’s been on display for the past three months. Dorian Gray’s picture is out of the attic now. All of the great ones face a cruel ending, but it remains jarring to see someone so dazzling in a past life look so ugly now. So helpless. And, in the case of Russell Wilson, it’s especially jarring to know why.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

Five Throwgasms

Chiefs at Bengals: Online sports betting just started up where I live, which means I was treated to a battery of free betting offers that companies like DraftKings use both to lure in new suckers and to write off on their taxes. I got one gratis $25 bet on Thanksgiving and ended up winning it, so when DraftKings was like, “Deposit $5 more and we’ll give you another $200 to play with!” I was ready to pounce on the deal. I’m no sucker. I would take that $200, lay it down in increments or all at once, double up (lose it all, naturally), and then peace out of the online sportsbook the second I was done playing with that $200 and only that amount.

Except that DraftKings didn’t accept my credit card. And when I tried my other credit card, DraftKings told me that “your credit card or bank doesn't permit deposits for gambling or sports betting.” A smart person would take that as a warning sign and thank their credit card company for shielding them from their own worst impulses, but not me. No no, I tried nearly every other way to deposit that stupid five bucks: Venmo, PayPal, etc. None of them worked. The only one that would work, and which I refused to do, was to connect DraftKings to my bank account so that they could withdraw the funds directly. That’s what all of these sportsbooks are really after. They want access to the fire hydrant, and it’s well worth them entreating you with offers of free betting money to get that hookup. That was a line that I, a grown man, refused to cross. Instead, I laid down a meager $10 on Philly to beat the spread on Sunday night and won again. If that’s all I can wager, then so be it.

But in the back of my mind, I still want that $200 without the fat string attached. I’m still scheming. A sickness is gestating.

Titans at Eagles: If you see a flag thrown during a game on Sunday and then hear the color guy say, “The league wanted to emphasize that this season,” get drinking. Did you rough the long snapper? Got too many men downfield? The ref called yet another ticky-tack illegal contact? Then drink up because baby, you KNOW that Roger Goodell wanted that shit emphasized. It’s what the fans love.

Dolphins at Niners

Four Throwgasms

Bills at Patriots: I get a rush anytime they cut to Steve Belichick during any Patriots game. I always forget that Lil ‘Chick exists, and then they suddenly cut to him over on the sideline, with his hands on his knees and his Kentucky Waterfall cascading down his shoulders and doing that weird shit with his lips and mouth, and I think to myself THERE HE IS! THAT’S BELICHICK’S WEIRDO KID! Never gets old.

Commanders at Giants

Jets at Vikings

Three Throwgasms

Steelers at Falcons: Well, I had to put some game in this slot. Don’t feel great about it. These are two teams that clearly hate themselves.

Two Throwgasms

Packers at Bears: If you missed Aaron Rodgers asking former Packers backup and current Guy DeShone Kizer, “Do you believe in 9/11?” here’s Kizer recounting of that story:

What a question to ask someone. As if 9/11 were fucking Santa Claus. I honestly can't tell from the back half of that clip if Kizer was backtracking to make Rodgers sound more normal than he actually is, or if he ended up agreeing with Rodgers that Questions Must Be Asked with regards to the attack on the World Trade Center. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me either way. All that matters is that you can go ahead and add “Do you believe in 9/11?” to the Rodgers dossier. The worse he plays, the thicker that dossier will get.

Seahawks at Rams

Saints at Bucs

Colts at Cowboys

Chargers at Raiders

Jaguars at Lions

One Throwgasm

Browns at Texans: Ah yes, the Deshaun Watson Revenge(???) Game. I think we were all looking forward to this one. On a sincere note, I’m glad that neither of these organizations has managed to benefit from that trade. You are witnessing years of shitty karma only beginning to manifest itself. Neither Houston nor Cleveland deserve any better.

Broncos at Ravens

Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Jesus Built My Hotrod,” by Ministry! I don’t think I’ve ever featured Ministry in this column: a glaring oversight that has long been in need of correction. Reader Jim provides it:

Here’s a wonderful slice of the type of heavy nonsense that got radio play in the 90s! “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is a breakneck riff fest that’ll stick with you for hours, but arguably the best part is the story behind it. Apparently Gibby Haynes, the frontman of the Butthole Surfers, stumbled into the studio so drunk he couldn’t even formulate words. Al Jourgensen (Ministry’s frontman) then took his incoherent ramblings and somehow chopped them up and reassembled them into the “lyrics” of this song. None of it means jack shit, and all of it is amazing.

Indeed it is. All my life, whenever I’ve thought of Ministry, I’ve thought of this clip:

Perhaps I should do a bit more homework on them.

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Jim gets to double-dip this week, giving us both the Brick Wall anthem and this story I’ll call THE DARJEELING, EXPRESSED:

Some in the comments have already heard this one but here’s the long-form version. I was stoned off my ass on a Sunday evening when my wife suggested we order from a new local Indian joint. I obliged, and subsequently went crazy with the menu. When the food arrived I wanted to try all of it. And believe me Drew, I did. 

I had two different varieties of chicken, all of the naan, every sauce they tossed in the bag, multiple types of rice, and even some shrimp. Naturally, in my hubris, I’d ordered the spiciest level of everything. My wife tapped out after a reasonable amount of consumption (smart!), but I was driven by the deadly combination of being stoned and extra hungry from a long run that day. In the end I essentially ate two full meals. 

Predictably, this backfired almost immediately. Within an hour or so my stomach was in knots that no amount of Pepto could settle. I was up most of the night on the porcelain throne, in a state of awe and disbelief at the quantities of hot brown liquid that were evacuating my body. It just didn’t make sense to me that there was more in me after a certain point but damn it, my body found a way.

Come about four in the morning, I finally managed to fall asleep. I woke up delirious maybe 90 minutes later, with what felt like a massive fart. Should I have gambled on it? My brothers in Christ: no. I should not have. But I was exhausted and had already released roughly my body weight in shit up to that point, so I let it rip. Predictably, it wasn’t safe. My wife appeared to be asleep next to me, so I snuck out, immediately threw the underwear away, showered, and got ready for work. 

I thought that it had gone unnoticed until several weeks later, when I was giving my wife a hard time about something. She merely responded with, “Well, at least I didn’t shit the bed.” And that was it. I haven’t been able to win an argument with her since. She has the trump card until she too has a gastrointestinal crisis in bed. Seeing as how she’s exponentially smarter than I am, I fear that day will never come. 

You never know, amigo. Maybe she’ll get dysentery! Then who’ll be laughing?!

Which Idiot GM Is This?

You know your team is in good hands when the man in charge of the roster is a professionally sweaty guy who MEANS BUSINESS. Which team does the man below hold in his meaty paws?

No, that’s not a corrupt archaeologist who foolishly opened The Crypt Of The Damned and has had his soul sucked out by it. That’s just Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, whose foremost act of hubris is never bothering to sign or draft capable wideouts. CURSE THEIR PETRIFIED HANDS.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

BOMB lager, which looks a whole lot like a fancy craft beer, mostly because it says “craft beer” on the can. Reader John quickly disabused me of that notion:

I was at a bar in NYC where there happened to be a promotion going on and these gems were being handed out for free. At first I thought it was a shitty energy drink, but instead it turned out to be a shitty beer. The can design ever so slightly assists in distracting the drinker from the horrible taste. The fact that it was free was also a flavor enhancer. But otherwise, BOMB can be purchased for $13/case.

I bet it tastes like it. If I’m gonna drink a shitty beer, I want it from a place I can TRUST, god dammit. Like Anheuser-Busch, or Miller, or a prison toilet. Not from some asshole slapping a dime-store Picasso on his can to trick beer snobs into thinking they’re drinking Tommy’s Artisanal Hopkakke. I WON’T HAVE IT.

Gameday Movie Of The Week For Texans Fans

Killing Them Softly, which joins The Hit in the “mob movies don’t have to be generational epics with high stakes to be good” genre. This is a movie about average criminals committing average fuckups and then getting their shit ruined as a consequence. It’s also a meditation on, like, America. But I largely ignored that part so that I could watch Ray Liotta get beaten like an egg. Also, James Gandolfini is in this movie. And yes, he uses the Tony Soprano accent. There’s also Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Shepard, and the dude who played Johnny Sack. And it’s barely over 90 minutes long. Three stars.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“What began as a traditional soccer riot has escalated into a city-wide orgy of destruction. Reacting swiftly, Mayor Quimby has declared mob rule. So, for the next several years, it's every family for itself!”

Enjoy the games, everyone.

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