If Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium was safety Adrian Wilson’s last chance to play in front of Cardinals fans, well, it was an unceremoniously ending (28-13 loss to the Chicago Bears) to a wonderful 12-year run.
Since coming to the Valley in 2001, the former third-round pick out of North Carolina State has been the heart and soul of the Cardinals’ defense. And even before the team reached its only Super Bowl during the 2008 season, Wilson remained true to the organization through some really lean years (six consecutive losing seasons from 2001-2006).
Before there were expectations of the team winning division titles and making deep postseason runs, Wilson made a commit to remain a part of the team’s long-term solution.
In an age where the sports industry is built on championship rings and free agency money, that level of loyalty is almost unheard of. Yet the five-time Pro Bowler never wavered in his passion for the Arizona Cardinals.
Even after a 2011 season in which he made yet another trip to Hawaii (despite playing the entire year with a torn biceps injury), Wilson agreed to restructure his contract (which reduced his base salary for this season) during training camp, because he wanted to do what was in the best interest of the team.
But as the first 15 games of the 2012 campaign have indicated, the 33-year-old’s days in the Valley may be numbered. In the team’s Week 11 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, defensive coordinator Ray Horton opted to use Rashad Johnson in nickel packages instead of Wilson. It’s a trend that has continued more and more over the past five weeks.
When asked whether he got emotional or nostalgic during the team’s home finale Sunday, Wilson suggested his mindset was on the Bears not on a potential Arizona departure.
“You know I hadn’t thought about [the game being my last in Arizona] at all, until you guys brought it up,” Wilson told media members following Sunday’s defeat. “If they make a decision, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quick.”
If the team decides to part ways with Wilson, they will being so with one of the most beloved members of the organization over the past decade. And also one of the most accomplished.
In the team’s 38-10 victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 15, Wilson became just the sixth player in NFL history to record 25 interceptions and 25 sacks for a career, joining Ray Lewis, Rodney Harrison, Ronde Barber, William Thomas and Brian Dawkins.
However, as Sunday’s game illustrated (one solo tackle), Wilson’s best days may be behind him. Yet for the
Arizona’s strong safety, the thought of leaving the only franchise and city he’s ever known isn’t a comforting one, even if it means going to a team with a brighter future.
As he made sure to remind everyone Sunday, the move would be harder on his family than it would be for him.
“What goes through my mind is having to move my family, having to find my kids another school, will they like the school,” said Wilson, who has three children ages 3, 8 and 10. “That’s what goes through my mind [when talking about a potential move], it’s my family. I can adjust.”