TEMPE, Ariz. — Adrian Wilson accomplished many things over the course of his 12 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
He was a Pro Bowler five times and an All-Pro once. He helped the Cardinals get to Super Bowl XLIII, and he is one of six players in NFL history to amass at least 25 interceptions and 25 sacks in their career.
So, what stands out to him as the pinnacle of his NFL tenure?
“Making it past my rookie year,” Wilson said Friday from the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility.
The former safety smiled and chuckled while saying that, though he went on to explain that once he made it through his first campaign he felt like he had to keep learning more and more.
“My second year was probably my worst year in the league as far as stats and play-wise because I had that sophomore slump and I didn’t know whether or not if I was going to be able to make it or not,” he said. “Once I got past that I kind of felt like I was going to be on the up and up and continue to get better.”
He was and he did.
Wilson finished his career with 893 total tackles, 27 interceptions, 25.5 sacks and 87 passes defensed.
One of the most feared safeties in the game during his career, the 2001 third-round pick out of North Carolina State was part of a handful of players who could genuinely take credit for the turnaround the Cardinals franchise underwent. It was not always easy — as Wilson himself wrote, there were was a lot of losing in the early days — but over time the Cardinals went from a bit of a laughingstock to one of the NFC’s better franchises.
The team you see now, the one that is 2-0 and viewed as a contender? It started a long time ago with a different group of players than the ones on the field.
“I would say it was a pack among — a few of us — that we weren’t going to kind of leave this organization in a rough spot as far as talent, as far as just helping build the organization back up,” Wilson said. “It was a commitment from a few guys and I feel like we kind of held our own as far as that commitment is concerned.
“We just wanted to kind of put this organization in a good place for when we decided to retire.”
Wilson last played for the Cardinals in 2012. After he was released by the team, the veteran signed with the New England Patriots but never played for them. He also joined the Chicago Bears, though never saw the field for them, either.
He is truly an Arizona Cardinal, and Sunday afternoon in Glendale when the Cardinals’ matchup with the San Francisco gets to halftime, his name will join 14 others in the Ring of Honor.
It’s a moment he said he hoped would come. With it, his legacy as one of the franchise’s all-time greats will be cemented. It means a lot to him, but not because of him.
“I’ve given my sons and my daughter something to kind of be proud of me about, given them something to kind of look forward to and can look back on what I’ve done and kind of compare themselves to me,” he said. “That type of thing — once you have kids, it’s one of those things where you have to be very very careful of a lot of things that you do and say, and I think I’ve done enough good things throughout my career and just my every day life that they’ll be proud of me down the road.”