Former Buffalo Bills tackle Will Wolford put the end to Eric Wood's playing career in perspective Monday at One Bills Drive.
Wolford, a star of the Bills' Super Bowl era and a 13-year NFL veteran, has spent the past nine years with the financial services firm Morgan Stanley and serves as Wood's financial adviser.
"I told him there's a number of different ways you can leave the league," Wolford said. "And almost all of them are really negative, really bitter and not what you want. I said this one, it's not what you want. But considering the woulda, coulda, shoulda involved with your neck, you're blessed."
"And your career was Wall worthy," Wolford said, referring to the Bills' Wall of Fame. "You had a great career. At least you got to enjoy and taste the playoffs. Because I've told him every year he's in the league, I know football is fun but wait till you go to the playoffs."
The "coulda" involved in Wood's exit was a catastrophic neck injury if he had taken a severe hit to his neck late in the season.
Wood found out about a damaged disc in his neck during a season-ending physical following the Bills' playoff loss in Jacksonville.
Bills past and present expressed admiration for Wood while also acknowledging the dangerous reality of injuries in any NFL career.
"He's given everything to this game and this organization," said former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "They had to tell him no. They had to tell him you're not allowed to play anymore. It's hard because of the finality of it. He played in his last game without really knowing it was his last game. So that is tough. But I know he has given everything he has to this organization and I know he's loved here in Buffalo. There are a lot of injuries he overcame early on in his career."
"Most guys who have played that long have injuries," said ex-Bills guard Kraig Urbik, who played next to Wood from 2010 to 2015. "He broke his leg twice. Most guys have dealt with it. The longer you play, the more injuries you get. It's definitely a tough sport."
Garrison Sanborn and Geoff Hangartner were other former Bills in attendance at the brief news conference. Among the current Bills seen in the fieldhouse included LeSean McCoy, Kyle Williams, Lorenzo Alexander, Jordan Mills, Ryan Groy and Travaris Cadet.
"To me he's as valuable as Kent Hull was, it's just the team didn't go to the playoffs as much," said Wolford, referring to the Bills' Wall of Fame center. "You look at the resurgence of the team and what he's done for it."
"He's a great football player," Wolford said. "He's dealt with injuries throughout his career and he's come back. He's a big reason why the team finally made it to the playoffs. It's a real shame that it's been cut short because he's playing really good football last season."
Asked about Wood's biggest impact on the Bills, Urbik said: "His leadership, for sure. Eric's a very physical, smart player. His leadership was awesome. Guys like him and Kyle have been leaders for this team for a long time. It's a huge thing they're going to miss for sure."
"I've always admired not only the player he's been but also how classy he is and the great teammate he is," Fitzpatrick said.
"He's true to who he is – Christian man husband, great athlete, gives back, serves. All those things, and it's genuine and it's real," said Alexander.
Fitzpatrick recounted his favorite on-field story about Wood, which happened in Cincinnati in 2011.
"It was the Stevie 'Why So Serious' game," Fitzpatrick said, referring to receiver Stevie Johnson. "It was a great comeback win. But it's the first time Eric went home to play in Cincinnati, his hometown. He leads the team out of the tunnel. He was all excited. I'm standing behind him. They introduce the Bills and we run out. And he runs to the wrong sideline. He just runs straight out to Cincinnati's sideline."
"There's nothing I can do," Fitzpatrick said. "We're getting booed and he can't hear me. ... Eric got about 30 yards in running and saw some of the stripes on the helmets. He had to make an awkward left and run across the field. I made sure to let him know I saw what he did. ... When I was thinking about some stuff we'd been through, that was one of the funnier things I could remember."