EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have both defied the odds.
They were both drafted under the radar late in the 2012 NFL Draft. Cousins was selected by Washington in the fourth round with the 102nd overall pick. Wilson was tabbed the previous night in the third round with the 75th overall pick by Seattle.
Their paths have intertwined few times and will cross again Monday night when Minnesota visits Seattle.
Whether it was competing against each other in the Big Ten, to playing on the same team at the Senior Bowl, to battling it out early in their careers in 2014 and 2017, Cousins and Wilson have become friends, but most of all competitors.
The first game in college between Cousins’ Michigan State Spartans and Wilson’s Wisconsin Badgers happened during regular-season division play.
This one went to Captain Kirk in dramatic fashion.
A 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Cousins to wide receiver Keith Nichol with no time left gave the Spartans a 37-31 win.
The pass bounced off of a fellow Spartan and into the hands of Nichol as an official review secured the victory for Michigan State.
Wilson would get his a chance for revenge.
The two quarterbacks again dueled in the first-ever Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2011.
Wilson led a game-winning touchdown drive that ended with a 7-yard run from Montee Ball to give the Badgers the lead with 3:45 remaining in the game.
This time, a Hail Mary attempt from Cousins did not fall in his favor. Wilson’s Badgers outlasted Cousins’ Spartans 42-39.
Wilson was awarded the game’s MVP award after passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Cousins was 22-of-30 passing for 281 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception in the defeat.
“They were all great games,” Cousins said. “In big part because of what he can do as a quarterback. Certainly the two [games] in college were two of the more memorable games or exciting games that I have ever played in.”
The pair of signal callers reunited as companions just a few days later.
Wilson, Cousins and current Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner met in Florida to prepare for the 2012 NFL Draft.
“More than those games was the fact that we got to train together during the pre-draft process,” Cousins said on his weekly podcast, the Officialize Experience. “We both finished our bowl games on January 1st or 2nd of our senior year, and three days later we were both down in Florida again training for the draft side-by-side.
“In the weight room, in the classroom, going out in the field and throwing it, was [Wilson] and I working together, competing with one another and trying to get ready for the NFL.”
The 2012 Senior Bowl was next on the docket, but this time they were on the same side.
The North Squad in that game was coached by the Vikings staff led by former Head Coach Leslie Frazier.
The roster featured Cousins, Wilson and former Cowboys quarterback Kellen Moore. Both Wilson and Cousins threw a touchdown pass in the effort, leading to a 23-13 victory over the South squad led by current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Wilson led all quarterbacks with his 4.55 time in the 40 yard dash, a time of 6.97 seconds in the 3-cone drill and a time of 4.09 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.
From early on, Cousins said he could see all of the traits in Wilson that have led to his success in the NFL.
“We spent roughly a couple of months from the end of the college season to the combine together,” Cousins said. “That’s when you could see not only his ability, which you obviously saw from a distance when we were against each other in college, but just his work habits, his intelligence, his leadership and command.”
Cousins didn’t test at the same level as Wilson at the combine, but his intangibles on the college level led to him being drafted, according to his pre-draft profile on NFL.com’s, which said, “He is a self-made guy, a tireless worker who has deficiencies that could hurt his pro potential. He is not a very strong deep thrower; while his velocity is adequate, his accuracy when throwing deep is questionable.”
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffen and Ryan Tanenhill were considered the prized possessions at the position and were selected first (Indianapolis Colts), second (Washington Redskins) and eighth (Miami Dolphins) respectively.
Wilson was drafted by the Seahawks after the Browns selected Brandon Weeden at No. 22 and the Broncos tabbed Brock Osweiler at No. 57. Seattle had signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to an offseason contract to be the starter, but Wilson won the job.
Cousins was the second quarterback drafted by his own team (102nd overall), when he was selected in the fourth round by the Redskins, who drafted Robert Griffin III at the No. 2 spot.
Cousins sat behind Griffen as he won the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award and Washington lost to Seattle in the Divisional Round of the playoffs that year.
When Wilson and Cousins met next in 2014 on Monday Night Football, Cousins had won the starting job over Griffen, and Wilson was fresh off of a Super Bowl victory the previous season.
This game would go to Wilson who was an efficient 18-of-24 passing with two touchdowns and 201 yards. The Seahawks defeated the Redskins 27-17 despite Cousins’ two touchdowns and 283 passing yards.
The most-recent matchup between the two came last season and again a Hail Mary play was involved in this game.
Wilson threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin with 1:34 left in the game to give the Seahawks a 14-10 lead at CenturyLink Field.
Cousins countered with a 35-second drive of 70 yards that featured a deep pass to wide receiver Josh Doctson to set up the game-winning score (a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Rob Kelley).
“I remember it being a tough game, hard-fought back-and-forth,” Cousins said. “Our defense played really well and kept us in the game. Then we just made enough plays there at the very end to be able to come out with a win.”
Wilson led the team to midfield with a few seconds remaining on the clock. On the game’s last play, he threw up a Hail Mary that was almost caught by two Seahawks in the back of the end zone, but barely broken up by cornerback D’Angelo Hall as time expired.
“It was amazing how they came fighting back,” Cousins said. “Even when we scored with only a few seconds left, they still got the ball down to midfield and had a chance at a Hail Mary. That team with Russell is always in it, and no lead is safe with them.”
For those keeping score Cousins and Wilson are tied 2-2 in their matchups so far.
“Its been really cool to look back now that six or seven years have passed and to see where our careers have gone and that we are still playing against one another,” Cousins said. “It’s amazing to see that journey and how it’s unfolded.”
Cousins said the two players continue to stay in touch off the field.
“There are some [Professional Athletes Outreach] events in the offseason that a lot of those guys go to. I’ll spend time and connect with them there. Also NFLPA meetings and Super Bowl Week, you might run into people if you’re not playing in the game.”
Wilson has thrown for 2,716 yards with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. The quarterback, who hasn’t been picked off since Week 9, has a passer rating of 115.5.
Wilson has had quite the career so far with a 72-35-1 record, 24,892 passing yards, 190 touchdowns and a Super Bowl victory to his name.
“I think all of the guys who trained with him down in Florida are not surprised by what he has been able to do,” Cousins said.
Cousins is having quite the first season in Minnesota, with 3,490 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is on pace to become the Vikings first 4,000-yard passer since Brett Favre in 2009. He has completed more than 71 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 99.1.
Another chapter in the Cousins-Wilson competition will unfold on Monday Night Football at CenturyLink Stadium and the world will again be watching.
We’ll see who takes the 3-2 lead and maybe we’ll see another Hail Mary on the last play.
“Hopefully it can be another exciting one,” Cousins said. “I’m excited to see what we can do.”