Adrian Wilson enters the Arizona Cardinals’ Ring of Honor on Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers visit University of Phoenix Stadium.
To be sure, there will be much reflecting on the legacy of a man who had so much to do with the franchise’s fortunes — and image — change for the better.
Wilson’s style reminds of watching an NFL Blitz game in the flesh. The safety was a battering ram, a freak athlete with a rare combination of physicality and speed. That helped him become one of six players with at least 25 interceptions and 25 sacks in their NFL career.
He also became a franchise face, not only because of his production for the Cardinals in 12 years with them, but because of the loyalty Wilson displayed as his career and the team around him evolved.
Here are some of the most memorable moments of Wilson’s career. Warning: The following content may be rated R for its violent nature.
Wilson’s patience pays off in NFC title win
The culmination of patience, belief and loyalty to the franchise that drafted him in the third round of the 2001 draft came for Wilson in the 2008 NFC Championship game, against the Philadelphia Eagles.
On the Eagles’ first possession of the second half, Wilson sacked Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb on 3rd-and-8, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Cardinal Bertrand Berry. At first glance, the play didn’t look critical with the Cardinals holding a 24-6 lead, but in hindsight it was key.
Philadelphia would rally to take a 25-24 lead. But Arizona scored on an eight-minute long drive, then held the Eagles to two final scoreless possessions to earn its way to the Super Bowl.
Wilson finished the 32-25 NFC Championship victory with a team-leading seven tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection.
“This being my eighth year, and to be in this organization at this time with these players and these coaches, it’s a great moment,” Wilson said after the game.
Tight ends in trouble
Since we can’t cover every big hit in Adrian Wilson’s career, we’ll focus on two of the most thrilling.
The assumption that defensive backs struggle to cover tight ends because of their size didn’t apply to the 6’3, 230 pound Wilson.
Two of his most memorable hits came against some big dudes.
One in 2007 saw Wilson, looking like he shot out of a cannon, shoulder Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap to the ground, though Heap somehow held onto the ball.
Later, Wilson earned a $10,000 fine for hitting a defenseless Vernon Davis when the Cardinals played the 49ers in September of 2009. There was a bit of Twitter drama — surprisingly, Twitter existed in 2010 — leading into this. Davis and Wilson’s Cardinal teammate, Darnell Dockett, had exchanged words over the social media platform before the game.
@ddockett last time I checked I was standing over top of #24 with a football stuck to my glove and believe we were in the endzone
— Vernon Davis (@VernonDavis85) May 11, 2010
The beef dated back a year prior. When asked about defending Davis specifically leading into a game against San Francisco in 2009, Wilson refused to acknowledge Davis by name when a reporter asked about the 49ers tight end.
“Who?” Wilson said at the time.
“Vernon Davis,” the reporter answered.
“Who?” Wilson repeated?
This was eventually settled, because there’s also this 2011 video of Davis explaining why Adrian Wilson was one of the best in the game.
He earned that type of respect.
Ripping the Rams
On Sept. 12, 2010, against the St. Louis Rams, Wilson recorded perhaps the most productive game of his career.
By the end of the evening, he’d totaled two interceptions, a blocked field goal attempt and a sack. He was the first player to record a pick, block a field goal and tally a sack — a violent one on quarterback Sam Bradford in his pro debut — in a single game since Julius Peppers did so in 2004.
Wilson’s second pick, which came in the end zone, ended the game for a 17-13 Arizona victory.
Laying the wood on Edwards
There’s been a significant discussion about concussion protocol even since Wilson’s recent retirement.
This hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards in 2008 earned Wilson a $25,000 fine. While it didn’t appear to be helmet-to-helmet, the viciousness of the impact caused Edwards to suffer a concussion, likely when his head hit the ground.
The NFL said Wilson violated the rule that “a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw (the player being tackled) down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.”
Cardinals fans, rather, probably remember the play as a reminder of how exciting Wilson was to watch.
Before Wilson began building a YouTube library of vicious hits — which arguably could fill this list of top moments — he was proving just how athletic he was by filming this footage of him clearing a 66-inch bar during an individual workout.
For perspective, that’s a 230 pound Wilson getting high enough to put both legs over a 5’6 human being.
It’s evidence of the incredible physical tools Wilson was working with for his successful NFL career that will be honored Sunday at halftime.
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