On Sunday night Russell Wilson became the first former Wisconsin quarterback to start in and win a Super Bowl, and you better believe Wilson’s achievement will affect more than just the city of Seattle.
Wilson, who threw for 206 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver, was one of four former Wisconsin football players — Seattle’s Chris Maragos and O’Brien Schofield and Denver’s Montee Ball — to be playing in the Super Bowl.
With four Badgers playing in the game, along with former Wisconsin quarterback Darrell Bevell calling the plays for Seattle as the offensive coordinator, Wisconsin’s football program received a lot of free publicity that will make a difference in the program’s national recruiting efforts.
Once the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game, stories started to flood the Internet that Super Bowl XLVIII would also act as a “Badger Bowl.”
Wisconsin gained national attention with stories coming from ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, among many others, that took notice that there would be no shortage of Badgers in East Rutherford, N.J. on Feb. 2.
But beyond the personal achievements of the former Wisconsin players reaching the pinnacle of professional football, the media attention the University of Wisconsin received became a major boost to the program’s national image, something that isn’t lost on Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.
“I have to admit, it doesn’t hurt with all the kids you’re recruiting,” Alvarez said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “Anybody who has dreams of going on to college football and then playing in the NFL, just watch the Super Bowl. It’s like free advertising for us.”
Anything that can boost the perception of Wisconsin sending players to the NFL is a good thing for the program. UW isn’t necessarily seen as a program that gives a player an above-average chance of breaking into professional football like teams like Alabama, Texas or USC.
Before a few seasons ago, Wisconsin had no alum that went on to become marquee NFL players, instead it may have been more famous for producing one of the bigger busts at the running back position with Ron Dayne’s struggle to produce at the next level. But now with the likes of JJ Watt and Russell Wilson grabbing the attention of the national eye, the Badgers’ NFL brand is growing.
In the past, Wisconsin wasn’t seen as a place for players to go, outside of offensive lineman, if you had dreams of taking the NFL by storm. UW holds more of a mantra of a place that recruits players that fit into its system and become solid and consistent collegiate players that no one outside of the state will know about but still play an important part in the team’s success.
Much like the Wisconsin men’s basketball team that takes so called “no name” players and develops them to fit the system, they play an important role in the team, graduate and move on with their lives, UW may suffer from that sort of perception. Not that it can’t sign highly rated recruits — I am aware who Melvin Gordon is.
About a month ago, Wisconsin lost out on the recruiting battle to get five-star running back Joe Mixon, who chose Oklahoma, although Wisconsin was in his final three schools. Not that having a bunch of players in the Super Bowl is going to automatically change the fortunes in recruiting campaigns like this, but again, it can’t hurt. A major selling point Oklahoma offered Mixon was the fact that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is his favorite NFL player and Peterson played for the Sooners in college.
So who’s to say there isn’t a young quarterback somewhere who watched Wilson win the Super Bowl and accept the Lombardi Trophy with the class that he has exhibited throughout his entire football career, tabbed him as his favorite player and will follow in his footsteps to Wisconsin?
The fact is that former Wisconsin players’ success in the NFL translates into a stronger brand, which widens the recruiting net. One of the first things up and coming football players are asked is “Who is your favorite player?” or “Who would you say your game is similar to?” You have to believe Wilson gained some more young fans Sunday night that will strive to reach the heights he met in MetLife Stadium.
Wisconsin was already starting to make strides at the recruiting end after reaching three-straight Rose Bowls, but now with recognizable names and one fresh Super Bowl ring, the Badgers’ recruiting list may have just gotten a little longer.