Wade Wilson Is a Carefree Millionaire
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ Wade Wilson says there’s no added pressure of being a million-dollar quarterback on a championship-caliber club. And with the logic he uses, you can’t help but believe him.
″The pressure was there to start with,″ he says. ″I was a veteran. I was going to be the starter. We were picked to win the Super Bowl.
″So I might as well be wealthy doing it.″
For the first time in his nine-year career, Charles Wade Wilson is on top of the Minnesota Vikings’ football world.
Gone are the Les Steckel days. Gone is the diabetes scare. Gone are the days as Tommy Kramer’s understudy. Gone are the quarterback controversies. Gone are the annual searches for the quarterback of the future. Gone is ″Whiskey″ Wade Wilson. Gone are the very recent days when he was one of the most underpaid players in the NFL.
″Wade has arrived,″ says wide receiver Jim Gustafson, Wilson’s best friend on the club. ″I don’t think there’s any reason for him to have a year any worse than last year, and that was pretty good. And if he stays healthy and plays all 16 games, he could have a phenomenal year.″
Sixteen games. Wilson likes how that sounds.
″If I had one individual goal, that would be it,″ he says. ″Then, I’m sure, the rest would take care of itself.″
Wilson, 30, hasn’t even come close to spending an entire season as a starter.
An eighth-round draft choice out of East Texas State in 1981, he threw a total of 41 passes his first three seasons.
In 1984, with both Kramer and Archie Manning sidelined, Wilson started five games with horrific results. The team had given up under Steckel, the ex- Marine coach, and finished 3-13.
The following year, the Vikings tried to trade for the draft rights to Bernie Kosar but failed.
Later in 1985, Wilson learned he had diabetes. He feared for his life until daily doses of insulin got the disease under control. He has pledged to spend a chunk of his paycheck on diabetes research.
That was also the year he had both his best and worst moments in his only start. Playing terribly, he got the Vikings into a 23-0 hole at Philadelphia and was pulled in favor of Steve Bono. But Bono played no better, and Wilson returned to throw three touchdown passes in the final 8 1/2 minutes to give the Vikings a 28-23 victory.
″I felt coming of age was anytime you guide a comeback win,″ Wilson says. ″I did that after stinking up the joint in Philadelphia and, maybe, saved my career.″
He played a little more in 1986, but only when Kramer, who led the NFL in passing in his best season, was injured.
During the 1987 offseason, General Manager Mike Lynn traded for rookie Rich Gannon and proudly proclaimed him as the quarterback of the future.
Wilson thought his big break came during the ’87 preseason. Kramer missed the start of training camp while undergoing alcoholism rehabilitation and Wilson got all the early work. When Kramer debuted, he hurt his neck.
Wilson was the starter and guided the team to victories in its first two regular-season games.
″I just started gaining confidence in myself and the respect of my teammates,″ he says. ″And then came the strike. I lost any advantage I had. When the strike was over, Tommy and I went back to Level 1.″
The Vikings’ famed quarterback controversy was born, even though Kramer’s pinched neck nerve still affected his throwing arm.
Wilson. Kramer. Wilson. Kramer. Wilson. Kramer. Coach Jerry Burns shuffled quarterbacks as if they were playing cards.
Finally, in the playoffs, the weak-armed Kramer made the decision for him. Wilson was sensational in upsets of New Orleans and San Francisco. In the NFC title game against Washington, he got the Vikings within 6 yards of overtime; his fourth-down goal-line pass was dropped by Darrin Nelson.
Despite Wilson’s ’87 success, he and Kramer went into training camp as co- favorites. Wilson got the opening assignment, but the Vikings lost to Buffalo. Kramer took the club to two straight victories and Wilson hurt his shoulder.
Kramer faltered, Wilson returned and led the Vikes to five consecutive lopsided victories. But a loss to Green Bay in Week 15 removed any chance of an NFC Central title.
In the regular-season finale against Chicago, Burns yanked Wilson even though the Vikings led 24-20. The ineffective Kramer almost gave the Bears the game and Burns finally decided that if the Vikings were going to go anywhere, he would have to play Wilson.
Minnesota beat the Rams in the playoffs but lost to San Francisco.
Ironically, Wilson learned before the Chicago game that he was voted to the Pro Bowl by his NFC peers. He was getting more respect from players and coaches around the league than from his own organization.
In 10 starts, Wilson led the conference in passing and became the first QB since 1984 to complete 60 percent of his passes and average over 8 yards a throw.
Nevertheless, Lynn spent more time during the offseason trying to trade for Steve Walsh than working on Wilson’s contract.
″They were always looking for someone else,″ Wilson says. ″In 1986, Tommy was in the Pro Bowl and I wasn’t getting any younger. They got Gannon and Bono to be the quarterbacks of the future. And tried for Kosar. And Walsh. I was worried that my time would pass me by before it ever really came.″
Last Sunday, the day before training camp opened, his time finally arrived.
Under his old contract Wilson was to have made $250,000 in 1989; that would have ranked him 57th on the quarterback wage scale. On Sunday, Lynn ripped up the old contract and gave Wilson a new one calling for $4.35 million through 1992. He is now the highest-paid Viking ever, passing Kramer.
Wilson, who asked that people stop calling him by his longtime nickname, ″Whiskey,″ after the alcohol-related problems of Kramer, Gannon and a half-dozen other teammates, can now afford to drink Dom Perignon. In moderation, of course.
Saying the raise was ″a long time coming,″ Lynn compared Wilson to Joe Kapp, who quarterbacked the Vikings to their first Super Bowl 20 years ago.
Then he said the words that no one connected with the Vikings had ever said: ″Wade, it’s your show.″
Armed with a new contract, new status as the Vikings’ undisputed No. 1 quarterback, and a talented supporting cast, there’s more of a stagger to the big Texan’s step than ever before.
He’s even won over Burns.
″With the contract, the success Wade’s had, the Pro Bowl, and the recognition that he’s the No. 1 quarterback on the club, that should give him more confidence,″ Burns said. ″He’s become more of a take-charge guy. He’s got the talent, the size, the arm, the intelligence, the speed, the durability.
″(Superstars) do it week after week. A guy’s gotta show it over a period of time. That’s Wade’s biggest challenge.″
″You can feel it. You can sense it,″ Gustafson said. ″Wade is as confident as I’ve ever seen him. The man’s going to have a great year.″
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