Eric Wood Shifts Into Retirement As Buffalo Bills Lose Their Center

Photo of Eric Wood from clutchpoints.com.

The aching is worse the more you care.  Sports provide valuable life lessons, if not always fun ones.  But being sad at a career’s end just means you enjoyed the during part.  The human element a favorite player’s retirement about more than a personnel move.  The void left by Eric Wood’s forced sidelining is larger than 20 percent of the offensive line.

Social media makes learning unpleasant news more chaotic.  I’ll always associate the end of his Buffalo Bills career with logging on to Twitter and suddenly feeling nervous after seeing fans wishing for Wood to be okay.  Such “Wait, what?” moments inevitably end in bad news.  I scrolled rapidly through tweets wishing him the best to find one explaining what prompted the outpouring.

The moment of dread was almost as dispiriting as finding the answer.  Still, it’s important to remember what didn’t happen.  Wood is literally walking away from the game.  He can hopefully enjoy everything in his life aside from snapping a football.

I miss Wood even if we’re not sure he’s gone.  A press conference as late as it was odd left fans wondering if the retirement took.  We can only hope the confusion stems from salary cap maneuvering as we wonder about the status of Schrödinger’s center.

Photo of Eric Wood from buffalonews.com.

I don’t feel like looking up draft-eligible centers.  At least, there’s some comfort provided by knowing solid backup Ryan Groy could step into starting.  It’s a testament to the professionalism of front office staffers that they can look for fresh talent after someone they know as a person had his career taken from him.

Brandon Beane can find someone else to play.  It’s the business’s nature.  But Wood will be tough to replace, and not just on offense.  Moving him off the active roster feels like more than another transaction.

The retiree is the sort of captain any team wishes it could have.  It’s easy to forget that good locker room presences also have to be able to play well.  Wood didn’t make anyone choose.

Wood was a calming presence literally in the center.  He served as the hurricane’s eye.  Roster chaos and poor results didn’t affect him.  I’m so used to him being there that I almost forgot he began his career at guard.   He ended up at what was clearly his natural position.

It’s always frightening to see the words “neck” and “injury” adjacent.  Players we watch smash into each other after every snap know the deal.  Multimillionaires accept risks in exchange for making a living playing a game.  But awareness of potential harm doesn’t make the cruelty of a sudden end any less distressing.

The list of this franchise’s 21st-century playoff wins is as long as that of people who doesn’t praise Wood as a person.  Even notoriously crabby journalists have gone out of their way to point out how the prototypical Bill radiated integrity.  Bad results didn’t make him run.  Wood has stood up for a lot of teams that have fallen down.

Photo of Eric Wood from yardbarker.com.

Wood wasn’t just a Bill: he became a Buffalonian.  Football is the sort of business where an Ohio native who attended a Kentucky college can become beloved in a seemingly random third place through an old general manager’s choice.  I don’t know if he’s staying in town, but he’ll always be welcome.

Do you believe in minor miracles?  Wood is one of those guys you’re glad got to enjoy a playoff appearance.  The modest dream coming true felt like Rudy without the schmaltz.  We already thought Andy Dalton was the greatest before we realized he helped ensure Wood’s final appearance with the Bills occurred in the tournament.

This game’s careers are over in a blink.  And there’s bound to be tremendous pain in that relative instant.  Even before his latest diagnosis, Wood had three of his nine seasons end prematurely due to injury.  The physical agony endured would make even the toughest man consider law school over an NFL contract.

Football never had a gold watch era.  The league was ahead of the curve in the trend of not spending an entire career at one company.  Bosses have to account for employee turnover as a practical matter.  Those rendered jobless knew this was a harsh business, but that doesn’t make the actuality easier.

Wood suddenly not playing anymore offers another reminder that life can change instantly.  Reality doesn’t care if you needed a fresh example or not.  Feeling happy is a cue to remember to brace for a crisis.  Pessimists merely notice the rules.

But Bills fans are renowned for being hopeful through gloom.  After all, we got to enjoy the blocking of a stalwart who both played and started 120 NFL games. Wood’s abrupt transition into more couch time is a reminder to appreciate the competitors we have while they’re here.

We’ll always be able to say that Wood embodied the best of the Bills.  Now, he has much to look forward to besides not having to endure training camp.  The new father, amusing tweeter, and habitual charity supporter can focus on a happy and healthy life. The man who started Bills plays can snap to his next chapter.  Wood has always been more than a football player.  Now, everything else can be his job.  That’s a sweet new career.

Editor’s babble: Thanks to Anthony for the terrific post honoring one of the Bills’ honorable players. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @AnthonyBialy. 

Views expressed on the #BillsMafia blog are solely the author’s and not necessarily endorsed by the owners of the BillsMafia website.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.