EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has studied Denver's Peyton Manning for a long time. And wow, can you ever tell.
Wilson talks like Manning. He prepares like Manning. Literally and metaphorically, he looks up to Manning.
As Wilson prepared this past week to face Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl, he said: "It will be great to go against Peyton. ... One day I want to be like him in terms of the way he thinks. He's just a master of the game. I'm working to get there. I'm on a constant quest for knowledge."
Wilson has soaked up lessons from Manning since he was a 10th-grader and went to Manning's passing academy. Manning was one of his counselors, but he has counseled thousands of kids in those camps over the years, and his memories of the experience are blurry. Wilson's are sharp.
"That was one of the better experiences of my life," Wilson said.
They are not the same player. Wilson is 25. Manning is 37. Wilson runs better. Manning is half a foot taller and far more adept at reading defenses.
But they could both run for political office and probably win. Wilson's teammates marvel at his study habits, which sound a whole lot like Manning's used to be before he had children and decided he needed more sleep.
Said Manning: "There was a time when I would come home from practice and I would stay up until 1-1:30 in the morning because I had to watch all four of (the next opponent's) preseason games that night. I thought that if I didn't watch all four of those games, the world might come to an end. ... Maybe I was a robot early on. Now maybe I am a little more human."
Wilson is still in the robot stage. He is young and free to devote 24 hours a day to football. Often, when you listen to him, it appears that he does. He still sounds like a graduate student in football -- a really smart one working on a doctorate. Manning, though, is the professor.
Gushed Wilson of Manning: "He's so consistent every year in his ability to make plays and put his team in a great position to win. That's what I want to be like. That's how I'm working to be."
Manning, on the other hand, has been reflective and expansive. He knows this week is different and hasn't tried to fight that.
After four neck surgeries, Manning found his second act in Denver. He had the best NFL regular season any quarterback has ever had this season. And he took no offense when Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said again that Manning throws "ducks." It's obvious to everyone Manning's arm strength isn't what it was, and his passes sometimes flutter.
Manning has a wry veteran's sense of humor that Wilson hasn't perfected. Wilson answers every question with an A-student's earnestness. Manning delights in tweaking himself.
Manning is not the only quarterback Wilson has studied. He is considered a "short" quarterback at 5-foot-11 (Manning is 6-5), and so he has also taken an independent study course in fellow "short" quarterback Drew Brees of New Orleans. Wilson once watched every throw Brees ever made in a season on tape.
Manning met Wilson again in the spring of 2012 when Wilson was on a pre-draft job interview with the Broncos.
Manning had just signed with Denver and was watching film. Wilson happened to be in Denver's building -- the Broncos were considering drafting him to become Manning's backup -- and the two got to visit awhile.
Seattle instead took Wilson with their third-round pick that year, and coach Pete Carroll almost immediately installed him as the starter.
The biggest difference this season has been touchdown passes (Manning had an NFL-record 55, Wilson a modest 26) and sacks. Manning gets the ball out so fast he was sacked only 18 times. Wilson likes to hold the ball sometimes and rely on his legs to scamper away from trouble. It doesn't always work, and he was sacked 44 times.
So there's more to learn. But the student hopes to master the teacher on Sunday, and he certainly believes that he can.
"I believed that I could go to the Super Bowl and win multiple Super Bowls and do all of those things," Wilson said. "I believe in that every day."