Arizona Cardinals to return to the field minus No. 24

Aug 8, 2013, 11:56 PM | Updated: 11:56 pm

It is the harsh reality of the NFL.

Players come, players go. Friends — good friends — become separated, opponents even.

Well, there will be a good friend missing when the Arizona Cardinals make their 2013 debut Friday at Green Bay.

For the first time since 2000, Adrian Wilson will not be on the field. There will be no No. 24.

And sure, five months have passed since his release in March, and the team has had six weeks of offseason work between minicamp and OTAs plus another two weeks of training camp without Wilson, yet him not being around remains very strange to many of the veterans.

“Oh man, it’s unbelievably odd,” said Larry Fitzgerald, who is now, along with Darnell Dockett, the longest-tenured Cardinals player. “A-Dub was one of my closest — if not closest — friends on the team. Being with a guy for nine years and spending so much personal time with him off the field, it’s just been an adjustment. It’s an unfortunate part of our business, but it happens.

“I talk to him all the time. He’s happy in New England. He has a chance to go out there and compete for an AFC Championship. He’s excited about that, but it’s still different.”

Different. It’s the word Calais Campbell used to describe not seeing Wilson in the locker room.

“That’s the guy that’s been around my whole career, but I know he’s in a good place and he’s happy,” Campbell said.

Karlos Dansby spent his first six NFL seasons teaming with Wilson on the Cardinals’ defense. Now back in Arizona after three years in Miami, he can’t help but think what might have been if Wilson were still around.

“He helped build this organization. It’s hard not to see his face around because he’s been the face of this organization for a long time,” Dansby said. “I hate that they had to part ways at the time they did, especially with my return. It would’ve been sweet to have him in the locker room with me, just to relive some of those moments and try to get back to some winning football here in Arizona. It’s tough not having him around, but that’s part of the game.”

It is. Change is inevitable, especially in the NFL.

Wilson was one of 25 veterans from last year’s 5-11 team to leave in the offseason.

“I wish him the best,” Campbell said. “I hope to see him in the Super Bowl. I know that’s why he went to New England, so he could get a chance at a Super Bowl. I hope to see him there and play against him and compete for it.”

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