The end really wasn’t a surprise, with the way things were going. From the time Steve Keim said to me back in February that “you have to put personal feelings aside, and you have to do what’s best for the organization” when it came to the roster, it was impossible not to think about Adrian Wilson first.
And it’s hard not to think how weird it will be without Wilson around. I mean, we’re talking about someone who came to Arizona when Jake Plummer was still the quarterback. Before Emmitt Smith even dreamed about swapping his Cowboy blue for Cardinal red. Before Larry Fitzgerald was even playing for the University of Pittsburgh, much less the Cards. He was there through the too many lows and then was the soul of that magical 2008 postseason.
Wilson — who wore No. 22 that first season in the old Cards unis that weren’t changed until A-Dub was going into his fifth season — was the definition of the raw talent coming out of college. He was ticked he lasted until the third round and it fueled him. It also seemed like the Wilson story every year those first three years was about “Wilson is about to make the jump” and he didn’t quite get there. But then Wilson blossomed, learned the league, and became a giant pain in the rear for offenses.
He was linked to Pat Tillman in his early days. He was drafted to replace Tillman, and had Tillman re-signed with the Cards instead of joining the Army back in 2002, Wilson would have surpassed him on the depth chart. As the years passed, in my time first as a newspaper reporter and then once I came on board with the team, I was able to learn more of what made A-Dub tick.
He was remarkably blunt. He could lean glass half-empty, but he was driven by the idea he could lead this franchise out of the doldrums. He did, and the scene of Dub, amidst the chaos right after the NFC Championship, emotional and in near daze, sticks with me to this day. I remember how giddy he was when he made his first Pro Bowl, and how, after promising a then-young media relations man Chris Melvin he’d pay for him to go to Hawaii too if he got there, Wilson did just that. Sometimes it seemed he wasn’t happy about people who criticized him, yet he often criticized himself without prompting. And the man can hit — ask Todd Heap or Trent Edwards.
(The Edwards hit in 2008, which knocked Edwards out of the game, was one of just six plays Wilson played because of a bad hamstring. I’ve never seen a player affect a game so greatly in such little playing time.)
Oh, the man could make you jump through hoops. The man could be intimidating and he knew it, even for someone like me who knew him so well. Sometimes he’d be tough to read, and in difficult times, you never knew if you might be stepping on a land mine in an interview. There were plenty of times the look he gave wasn’t a good one when I asked for a moment — and then he’d break into a smile, unable to keep up the ruse.
Mostly though, I remember a player who so desperately wanted to be a Cardinal for life. It’s why he took a big pay cut last season and why he wasn’t going to rock the boat last season when he lost playing time — and make no mistake, Wilson was disappointed that happened. Today’s move just underscores how way more often than not, a team’s plan and a player’s plan don’t mesh. The Cards would have loved to have Wilson retire a Cardinal. But if it wasn’t going to happen now, and Wilson plans to keep playing, they were going to do what they felt they needed to do today. It happens. It doesn’t make it any easier. I know a lot of fans are upset today — some are even angry — but this is what happens in this league. It had to be an incredibly difficult phone call for Keim. There was no one closer to Wilson in the organization.
Last summer, Wilson said he could see himself working for the organization in some capacity when his career was over. That’s not yet, but I can totally see that possibility. I can see too — and no one has said anything, but I can speculate — Wilson one day signing one of those ceremonial contracts to retire as a Cardinal.
I could write 10,000 words about 12 years with A-Dub. Safe to say I’ll miss the guy. The Cardinals will too.
Tags: Adrian Wilson
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