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Interview with Seahawks' Russell Wilson; Interview with Colts' Andrew Luck

Aired January 10, 2014 - 22:30   ET




Undeterred. All the scouting reports said Russell Wilson was too short to play in the NFL.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST: Scouts say you've got to be 6'2" to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

RUSSELL WILSON, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I think it gives me another extra little bit of motivation, a little fire, you know, in me.

ANNOUNCER: Unexpected.

JOEY PANTOLIANO, ACTOR: I'm Joey Pants, lost my head inside the matrix. But hopefully after I take the blue pill, I can survive an evening talking sports with Rachel Nichols.

ANNOUNCER: Unrelenting. The Colts were down 28 points against Kansas City. But quarterback Andrew Luck had the Chiefs right where he wanted them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Luck scores! Andrew picked up the fumble and scores!

ANDREW LUCK, COLTS QUARTERBACK: To enjoy some of those pressure moments. It's great to be able to go out there and try and overcome, you know, whatever the obstacle is.




The NFL playoffs are captivating millions once again this month. And tomorrow, all eyes will be on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and with good reason. Thrilling crowds with equals parts, smarts and flare, Wilson has Seattle talking Super Bowl for the first time in nearly a decade.

Yet, for a guy who looks like such a natural, the best word to describe Wilson's NFL career is improbable. He wasn't supposed to be good enough to be here. He wasn't even sure he'd be playing sport. But he is, and his story will inspire you.


NICHOLS (voice-over): He has a Colgate smile, stars in national commercials alongside his beautiful wife. And oh, yes, he's the starting quarterback for the top seeded Seattle Seahawks, a favorite to reach next month's Super Bowl. But Russell Wilson is aware, according to the experts, he wasn't supposed to be sitting here.

(on camera): If I had asked outsiders in Vegas what the odds were that you would be in this position right now, what do you think they would have given me, one in 10,000 more? I mean --

WILSON: Yes, probably something like that. Being a 5'11" quarterback, not too many people think you can play in the National Football League.

NICHOLS: For the record, I just want to state, you are significantly taller than me, because you are 5'10" and 5/8 I believe you were measured at the combine. Scouts say you have to be 6'2", right, to start to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-eight of the 32 starting quarterbacks are 6'2" or taller. Nobody under six feet is starting in the NFL right now.

WILSON: If I was 6'2", I couldn't see over any offensive lineman. I mean, they're 6'8". You know, I can't -- I'm still looking through lanes to try to see and everything.

NICHOLS: What is it about society that we want to put people in these boxes and say he's too short, he can't do this? Or whatever the boxes for?

WILSON: That's a tough question. The biggest thing is we want to find the prototypical person. You want to find the perfect athlete, perfect actress, whatever it is, and the thing that makes people unique is what they bring to the table that's different than everybody else.

You know, I want to be the uncommon one. I think it's pretty cool that I'm only 5'11", you know, and playing in the national football league.

NICHOLS: Does having to approach football a little differently because you are a little bit different, make you a little player on the field?

WILSON: I think it gives me an extra bit of motivation, a little fire in me.

NICHOLS (voice-over): Wilson comes from a family of high achievers. His grandfather was a university president. His grandmother earned a doctorate on her way to becoming a college dean. And then there was his father, Harrison, an Ivy League graduate, president of his law school class, And a two-sport star who attended training camp with the San Diego Chargers.

Harrison raised Russell in his image.

WILSON: My dad used to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning and hit me ground balls and tell me, don't be afraid to excel. Don't be afraid to be great.

So, those things just mattered to me.

NICHOLS (on camera): Your dad, I hear also, prepped you for moments like these.

WILSON: He's also always asked, Russell Wilson, you just got -- won the Super Bowl, you're playing in the Super Bowl, what's next, what are you thinking? Those type of questions all the time, never too much where he used to run me into the ground or anything like that. It was always to uplift me and encourage me to do great.

NICHOLS (voice-over): Wilson enrolled in North Carolina State after the school promised to allow him to play both football and baseball.

(on camera): I mean, you wanted to be Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson when you were a kid.

WILSON: I did. Since I was in high school, I wanted to play professional football and professional baseball, be a two-sport star.

NICHOLS (voice-over): He ended up dominating both starts and still graduating in 3 1/2 years.

(on camera): You're making every kid who spent their time in college drinking beer feel really bad themselves. You know that, right?

WILSON: I've just always been motivated to do something different, something unique. You know? And so, I want to be uncommon in that fashion.

NICHOLS (voice-over): There was only one problem -- his father, Harrison, was sick.

WILSON: When I first went to college, I was a freshman in college. My dad had diabetes his whole life pretty much. He ended up suffering a major stroke, hit his head on the back of a table, went into a coma for 2 1/2 weeks. The doctors told me he wasn't going to make it.

NICHOLS: Harrison Wilson did come out of his coma. But two years and several more strokes later, he was back in the hospital.

WILSON: So fast forward to my junior year in college. He had a breathing mask on, he wasn't doing well at the time, but, you know, it's kind of playing around and just talking to him and letting him know all the great things that were going on. I ended up getting drafted by the Colorado Rockies on June 8, 2010 and the next day, my dad passed away, in June 9, 2010.

So I'm at the biggest high of my life on June 8th. And the next day, June 9th, he's gone.


NICHOLS: Harrison Wilson was just 55 years old when he died.

Coming up, Russell Wilson explains the impact of his father's death, why he almost ended up playing baseball, not football.

Also a later in the show, I'll talk to the hero of last weekend's playoff games, Colts quarterback Andrew luck. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Luck scores! Andrew picked up the fumble and scores!



NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols and welcome back to UNGUARDED.

Football fans know Russell Wilson as the quick silver quarterback leading the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL playoffs. But when Wilson was 22 years old, it appeared he was on a different path. His father died the day after she was drafted by the Colorado Rockies to play baseball. Yes, baseball. A confluence of events Wilson felt he couldn't ignore.


NICHOLS (voice-over): Russell Wilson spent two seasons playing single-A baseball, trying his best to make his late father proud.

(on camera): Michael Jordan took a break from his basketball career to play baseball and part of it was this dream he and his dad had. And he wanted to see it out.

For you, seeing out your baseball career, at least testing out how good it could be, was that part of something you felt you wanted to do for your dad?

WILSON: I think it was part of it. Dad always thought I'd plays shortstop for New York Yankees or something crazy like that.

NICHOLS: Was there a point you thought this is the road I'm taking?

WILSON: Yes, I definitely thought a lot of teams projected me to play in the major leagues for a long time. But at the same time, I know I had this passion, this fire to play the quarterback position. With my dad passing away in 2010, you know, a hard moment in my life.

My dad loved football so much. Now, he gets the best seat in the house. He used to see every game. It's a special thing for me.

NICHOLS (voice-over): Wilson felt he had his father's blessing to return to football. In 2011, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin for his final season of college eligibility, taking the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. After being drafted in Seattle, he shocked the pundits by taking the Seahawks to the playoffs in his rookie season.

WILSON: It was just the right team, right place, amazing fans, to talk to many fans. I think that was something that was, you know, I really into, and, you know, I wanted the Seattle Seahawks to pick me. Ironically, I put all 32 teams in a hat and shook it up and sure enough, I pulled the Seattle Seahawks out. That was a month before the draft.

NICHOLS (on camera): Wait, you did this?

WILSON: Yes, I did that.


WILSON: It was something different I wanted to try. Ash and I signed it up --

NICHOLS: Your wife, right?


NICHOLS: OK, so you guys get a hat.

WILSON: Yes, normally, something I don't do. I put all the teams in a hat and I said whatever team picks me is going to be the team that's going to select me. And sure enough, I pull out the Seattle Seahawks. About a month later, they ended up picking me.

NICHOLS (voice-over): It has been so far a perfect partnership -- a player who doesn't think or look like a typical NFL quarterback paired with a franchise that also prides itself on thinking differently.

WILSON: We're pretty innovative here for the Seahawks. This measures my sleep. It measures my awareness. It measures how focused I am. You know, we've been doing it all year.

NICHOLS: It measures how focused you are?

WILSON: Yes. I'm at a 90.9 right now. I'm pretty locked in. Come game time, I'm usually right at the 100. So --

NICHOLS: So, during this interview, my goal is to get that number up.

WILSON: See if you can get it out. NICHOLS: OK. In a 24-hour day during the season, how much time are you devoting to football?

WILSON: I mean, that's a tough one. I would say at least a good 14 hours, maybe 16 sometimes. I want to hopefully focus on football and hopefully win a Super Bowl and multiple Super Bowls and hopefully change this franchise in some way.

NICHOLS: If your dad got to hear those words somewhere that hey, Russell Wilson super bowl winning quarterback, if you win the Super Bowl, are you going to stay that person for your dad?

WILSON: Yes, definitely. I'll be answering just like I did in the car, in the BMW when I was, you know, 14 years old.


NICHOLS: That will certainly be a special moment.

Now, I'm happy to be joined by our panel tonight.

He's not a mobster but he played one on TV. I want to welcome in , actor and author Joe Pantoliano, who received an Emmy for his work on "The Sopranos."

Also here, Baltimore Raven star Chris Canty, former Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants.

All right. Gentlemen, I want to talk about college athletes here. Now, the argument against them getting paid has long been that they're getting a high level education for free. But a CNN report revealed this week that a staggering number of revenue sports athletes can't read above an eighth grade level, up to 60 percent in some of the schools surveyed.

Chris, you went through a college program. Did you find that commensurate with your experience?

CHRIS CANTY, BALTIMORE RAVEN: Well, I went to UVA. So it's not just any college.

NICHOLS: Any college program -- it's a good college, excellent college. Perfect.

CANTY: What I found in Virginia was the minimum standards that were required of student athletes were higher than a lot of what some of my peers in other schools and universities were experiencing. So from that perspective, the University of Virginia had the support staff there that was able to help me to make sure I was on the right track to be able to graduate.

So, I'm thankful for that. But I do recognize that's not the case in all colleges and universities. What's taking place is that we're seeing athletes monetized at such a young age. They're taking away the incentive to make sure that these athletes are properly educated. They're saying they're more valuable participating as athletes than as students and being educated.

PANTOLIANO: This is more of a statement on the culture of America than it is on football. I think it's just a microcosm what's happening with the football players.

NICHOLS: Well, I mean, I do want to show you a map. This was created by the Web site Deadspin. Thirty-nine of the states, the highest paid public official is a basketball or football coach.

Maybe that's what people really want. Do we all have to take a look at ourselves, not just the colleges?

CANTY: Absolutely. We have to look at ourselves and we have to understand that we have to be responsible with what these young men are going through. We have to accept some level of responsibility, because we are the ones that are watching, we re the ones that are buying the tickets. We are the ones that are buying the jerseys.

And everybody is capitalizing on these young men, except for these young men. You know, they're being offered a scholarship opportunity that they can't take full advantage of because they're spending so many hours studying their playbooks, working out, so many hours watching film and practicing that they're essentially -- there's no time for them to be a student. And even if they wanted to be a student, they don't have the minimum basic skills to take advantage of the education they're being offered.

NICHOLS: All right. Well, let's say we change the rules. Let's say we somehow decided, you know what, we're going to put education first, it is more important. How will this get actually monitored? Because we've seen with NCAA rules and so many other respects, all kinds of cheating goes on and all kinds of schools, nobody really wants to bear down and press these guys.

How does this actually work?

CANTY: I think you have to start at a very young age with these young men and change the culture. You have to raise the minimum standards of what's required from an academic stand point for these student athletes.

PANTOLIANO: How about when they're in the eighth grade and not reading at their level, they stay in the eighth grade until they are at level. It's a catch-22, isn't it?

NICHOLS: OK. Guys, we're going to have to take a break from there.

But we'll be back in a moment and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is going to join us, talking everything from ball games to board games. And my panel here is also going to tell you exactly what they think of this.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER (singing): Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you --



NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED.

We're going to pick up with our panel, Super Bowl champion and current Baltimore Raven Chris Canty and Emmy-winning actor Joe Pantoliano.

And, guys, this week, we saw Dennis Rodman take a group of former NBA players to North Korea. And I thought NBA commissioner David Stern put it nicely, saying, quote, "Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of those instances."

What do you think when you saw Rodman over there with these guys?

CANTY: I thought it was bizarre. I thought it was bizarre. You know, Dennis Rodman essentially aligning himself with someone that's a dictator and considered an enemy of the state.

PANTOLIANO: When have we ever seen Dennis Rodman not being bizarre? What he had to say, I would blame CNN more than him because you don't have to air that stuff.

NICHOLS: If he wasn't going over there putting himself in that position, nobody would be asking those questions.

CANTY: There's a responsibility that lies with the media outlet, but I think there's also a responsibility on the player to be -- to understand the situation. It's such a high stakes situation, obviously, the tensions between North Korea and the United States.

You have Kenneth Bae in prison there. There's lives in the balance. He's got to be more responsible in how he's trying to capitalize on this opportunity that's president to him.

NICHOLS: We've seen players who made money toward the end of their careers, sell out their bodies. It's not good for them to still be out in the field. Now, it seems like some of them are selling out their political beliefs as well because they need the cash.


PANTOLIANO: Or maybe he believes what he believes.

NICHOLS: I mean, is it a case of that, Chris? Do you think, hey, this guy is doing what he believes or we just don't happen to like it?

CANTY: Well, that could be a possibility. Dennis Rodman is not over in North Korea on official diplomatic business.

NICHOLS: I mean, certainly, Michael Jordan, we remember didn't want to take a political stance on anything because it was going to cut into his profit margin. And that's the danger, too.

CANTY: I think you've got to know yourself. If you're uncomfortable speaking out, then you shouldn't. But if you're comfortable utilizing that platform that you have as an athlete or an actor, or someone in the public eye, if you're comfortable using that platform to speak out on issues that you're passionate about, then there's no problem with that.

But I think that you have to be responsible and accountable for what you put out there.

NICHOLS: Well, the mixing of athletes and politics was not limited to Dennis Rodman this week. Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe claimed that one of his coaches repeatedly used gay slurs in team meetings and that Kluwe's outspoken support for gay marriage is what caused him his job earlier this year.

Here's Kluwe on Anderson Cooper this week.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's one thing to speak out. It's another thing to write this article saying your former coach is a coward and the special coordinating coach is a bigot.

CHRIS KLUWE, FORMER VIKINGS PUNTER: Yes, that pretty much threw the stick of dynamite on that bridge.


NICHOLS: All right. So, Chris, you're an NFL expert. Have you seen in locker rooms the kind of bigotry that Chris Kluwe is alleging here?

CANTY: Homosexuality is something that makes everybody surrounding the culture of football seemingly uncomfortable. But I don't see that as an issue that would cause someone to lose their job. I'm not sure what took place in the Minnesota Vikings situation. I'm not saying that's the reason that he potentially lost his job because of it. But it certainly is something that's controversial and it didn't help his job situation.

NICHOLS: Well, I want to read you the quote. He said one of his coaches, the special teams coordinator, said, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island and nuke it until it glows."

Do you buy that this happened?

CANTY: I certainly hope that's not what the special teams coordinator with the Vikings said. Again, I can understand how this is a very controversial topic. People fall on different sides of the line with this issue.

But I don't think that gives you the right to demean or make derogatory comments about any particular group. PANTOLIANO: He was pissed off for getting fired. Because he supports gay marriage, that he used that -- you know, ego is a terrible thing. Sometimes we don't know our time is up, we passed our prime and it's hard to be fired for anything. To be able to walk away from it and say, you know what? I had my day.

NICHOLS: Excellent. Well, guys, we have to stop our discussion there. Thank you for joining us. Please come back another time.

And you guys, stay with us after the break because Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will join us. I'm going to ask him about facing Tom Brady's Patriots this weekend, as well as, what is up with that beard?


NICHOLS: Welcome back. I'm Rachel Nichols.

This year's NFL playoffs have already set viewership records. Thanks in part to a breathtaking win engineered by my next guest.

Quarterback Andrew Luck threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth last weekend, as the Colts erased a 28-point halftime deficit to beat the Chiefs.

Earlier, Andrew joined me to discuss the thrill of victory and a whole lot more.


NICHOLS: Andrew, you authored one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the NFL. Afterward, your teammates just kept talking about your force of will. What do you think to yourself in a moment like that, that lets you keep going and fight, even with an almost 30- point deficit?

LUCK: Well, you know, I think, one, like any competitor, you want to get back out on the field after you mess up, throw an interception. You want to go back out and atone for your sins and be accountable for your teammates. I think what's great about football is the trust, the accountability factor and fun to go out and try and right your wrongs.

NICHOLS: I looked it up. You've had fourth quarter comebacks. You engineered 11 game-winning drives.

Andrew, you've only played 34 NFL games. I mean, that's a lot of saving the day in the nick of time.

LUCK: I guess so. But, you know, I think it's really a testament about the team and the grit that this organization has.

NICHOLS: Your general manager compared you to Michael Jordan the other day. He said you have the ability to raise your game in the fourth quarter, to meet the moment.

Why do you think you're a guy that plays up when the stakes go up instead of shirking from them?

LUCK: I'm not sure. I know I'm no Michael Jordan by any means. I don't know, a tenth of what he's done. But like any competitor, you enjoy some of those of pressure moments, some of those tough moments and team sports is great to be able to go out there with your buddies, and try to overcome, you know, whatever the obstacle is.

NICHOLS: You're about to play the Patriots, something that has gone so well in the past. In fact, when you played them in New England last year, that 59-24 loss, that was the worst of year career. I know your coach joked afterward that he burned the film from that game.

LUCK: Yes, I think it was a bad loss. A lot to learn from that game, but we understand also it has no bearing on this year, and we're excited about a great opportunity to go back to Foxboro.

NICHOLS: Are you a better quarterback, a better leader than you were a year ago when you last faced them?

LUCK: You know, I like to think so. I feel more comfortable in a lot of different situations, so hopefully.

NICHOLS: You've got all kinds of prep for this game. You've got your film study. I know you're also an avid board game player. You have the strategy games you like to do at home. Does that help you at all in your critical thinking? Is it fun?

LUCK: I don't think so. It's a nice way to get my mind off of football and relax. I try not to bring the two together.

NICHOLS: I mean, you're not playing monopoly, right? What do you play at home?

LUCK: Settlers of Catan. That's the game of choice right now. It's fun.

NICHOLS: I think people like the idea you could be going out doing anything, be going to parties, be going to all kinds of black tie events and you're at home playing a strategy, sort of nerdy board game.

LUCK: It's much more relaxing than the alternatives.

NICHOLS: Well, I can't let you go without asking you about the playoff beard. What has it been like having that thing on your face?

LUCK: It's been all right, I guess. I got too lazy towards the end of the season to shave it. I guess it's turned into what it is now and I don't think my parents like it very much, but they'll put up with it.

NICHOLS: How quickly are you going to get rid of it after the playoffs are over? Are you waiting to peel it off your face?

LUCK: I know it's not the greatest look. But I guess it will come off. Hopefully in February.


NICHOLS: Well, Andrew, I'm not sure I remember what you look like without that beard. So, hey, maybe it will be a few more weeks before you remind me.

That is it for us this week. But you can follow me on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or visit us on the web at

And we'll see you right back here next Friday night on UNGUARDED, where the end of the game is start of the story. Good night.