It didn’t take long for the Seattle Seahawks and their fans to move on from the Russell Wilson era. Never mind that he had led the team through a decade of winning. Never mind that he had helped secure the team’s only Super Bowl title.
The Seahawks traded Wilson to the Denver Broncos in the off-season after he grew disillusioned with his former team’s lack of protection for him, and its unwillingness to give him a voice in personnel decisions. Ultimately, the gap between Wilson and the club grew too wide to close.
That gap was a big reason Wilson, despite all his success during 10 seasons in Seattle, was showered with boos from the moment he took the field for warm-ups before the Broncos played the Seahawks in their season opener on Monday. The boos continued when the teams re-emerged for kickoff, and every time Wilson touched the ball or overthrew a receiver.
The boos only stopped, in fact, when they were replaced by Seattle cheers in the game’s final moments: Wilson’s final drive ended when Broncos Coach Nathaniel Hackett opted to send out kicker Brandon McManus for a 64-yard field goal attempt with 20 seconds on the clock. With Wilson watching from the sideline, his night over, McManus missed the kick, allowing the Seahawks to escape with a 17-16 victory.
“They may cheer for you, they may boo you, they may love you one day and hate you the next,” the relentlessly upbeat Wilson said, trying to put a positive spin on the loss. “That’s sports.”
Wilson very nearly silenced his doubters, passing for 340 yards and a touchdown and repeatedly connecting with his new receivers, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, for big gains.
Playing from behind in the third quarter, Wilson led the Broncos on back-to-back drives into the red zone. But the Broncos came away with no points because his running backs, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams, fumbled on goal-line stands to help the Seahawks maintain a 17-13 lead. The heralded Denver defense also did Wilson few favors. Denver had 12 penalties overall, for 106 yards, but several by the defense allowed the Seahawks to extend drives.
But Wilson said he had no problem with Hackett’s decision to go to McManus to try to win the game.
“I don’t think it was the wrong decision; I think he could make it,” Wilson said. “Obviously in hindsight, we didn’t make it, but if we were in that situation again, I wouldn’t doubt whatever he decided.”
Many great quarterbacks, of course, have returned to their first homes in new colors. Brett Favre to Green Bay. Peyton Manning to Indianapolis. Tom Brady to New England. In most cases, fans often set aside their tribal loyalties — briefly — to appreciate their former favorites before jeering them once the game begins.
Wilson didn’t even enjoy that much in his return to Seattle. He was sacked twice and hit numerous times, much to the delight of the sellout crowd at Lumen Field. Fans held signs that said “Show Russ the Boom,” a reference to Seattle’s famed Legion of Boom defense, and “12 > 3,” a nod to the Seahawks’ nickname for their fans — the 12th Man — and Wilson’s No. 3 jersey.
“I didn’t wear my Wilson jersey because he’s not a Seahawk anymore,” said Sean Reay, a longtime season-ticket holder who instead arrived in a Brian Blades jersey in honor of the Seahawks receiver from the 1990s. “One day, Wilson will come back to have his number retired and people will go crazy. I’ll wear it then.”
Seahawks fans appeared to be so over Wilson that they treated his former understudy, Geno Smith, as Seattle’s new savior. Smith threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to tight end Will Dissly on the Seahawks’ first drive, prompting the crowd to chant “Ge-no! Ge-no!” as if he was an M.V.P. contender.
“In the N.F.L., you never know when the momentum is going to shift,” Smith said. “Any time you’re at home, any time, you want to start that first drive and go down and score.”