CAPACCIO: Wood represented Bills with class, on and off the field

January 26, 2018

It was the Wednesday before his annual foundation’s Flights and Bites charity event, supporting Children’s Hospital.  Bills’ center Eric Wood was walking off the practice field.  I asked him how things were going with the planning of the event and how much it’s grown.  He proceeded to tell me how great things were going with it, then asked, “haven’t you ever been there?”

I told him I had never been there but heard great things about it. The next thing he said was, “well, I want you and your wife there this year. As my guests.”

Of course, we accepted the invitation and made it to the event that weekend.  And it was, also of course, amazing.  A lot of items auctioned off, great food, a band (that Eric even sang with), and just an incredibly relaxed atmosphere - because of Eric.  This was an important event to raise money for sick children, and as usual plenty was raised, yet it was Eric making everyone who attended feel at home and important.

I’ve been covering the Bills since 2011. Eric Wood and Kyle Williams are the only two players who have been on the team that entire time. And just like his teammate Williams, Wood has always been a go-to guy in the locker room no matter what the circumstance.

Win or lose, poor offensive line play or great, taking a bad penalty or having clean game, injured or healthy, another player traded away, a head coach being fired, the starting quarterback getting benched….you get the idea. It has never mattered. When the locker room opened to the media after practice, number 70 was always there unwrapping his taped wrists, still breathing heavy and sweating, but ready to answer whatever questions any of us had. 

Wood never shied away.

Off the field or on.

His rookie year in 2009, while playing guard at the time, Wood suffered a gruesome broken leg at a game in Jacksonville. He rehabbed, recovered, and came back even better. Two years later, he suffered a torn ACL in a game at Dallas. Once again, he got to work, doing everything it took to come back even stronger for his teammates the next year.

After missing a couple games near the end of 2012, Wood went on to start every game for the next three and a half seasons - 59 straight, which was the most in the league for any center - until a broken leg on a Monday night in Seattle last year kept him out for the rest of the season.

More rehab. More recovery. More work.  But there was Eric Wood, as soon as this past year’s minicamp began, taking his normal spot in front of the quarterback snapping footballs.

Mr. Reliable.  On the field and off.

Wood’s excellent play, which mostly went unnoticed for much of his career due to the poor teams he was on, finally got noticed and earned him a Pro Bowl honor in 2015.  That same year, the NFL announced he was one of the 32 players honored as the Bills' Man of the Year and eligible to win the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.  He received the same honor the following season.

Wood’s hard work and dedication, and his incredible leadership through all times thick and thin was rewarded with a 2-year, $16 million contract extension before this season started.  He said at the time he wanted to be with the Bills when they finally broke their seventeen-year playoff drought.  Four months later, it happened. Maybe even earlier than Wood believed it would, who knows? But he finally got to play in a playoff game. And no one was more deserving than him and Williams.

Eric and his wife had a baby boy recently.  A younger brother to his infant daughter.  It’s important for him to see them grow up, and enjoy life with them together. Thanks to an early detection of this neck injury by Bills’ team physicians he’ll hopefully be able to do that for a long, long time.

Life will go on without Eric in the Bills locker room every day.  But it certainly won’t be the same for the team or any of us.  Personally, if you haven’t figured it out by now after reading all of what I just wrote, I want to make it clear:  Eric Wood is one of the nicest, most giving, thoughtful, humble, and stand-up athletes I’ve ever covered.  I’m confident that no matter what he does with the rest of his life he’ll be great at it.

One day, Eric Wood‘s name and number 70 will be on the Bills’ Wall of Fame. Not because he played in four Super Bowls, or went to numerous Pro Bowls, or made a ton of All-Pro teams. It’s because he played at a high-level, with consistency, and always represented them with class and character and pride.

I’m lucky I got to cover Eric Wood.  Buffalo is even luckier we got to have him.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports