Images from safety Adrian Wilson's retirement press conference on Monday
Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill had delivered an introduction fit for someone of Adrian Wilson's stature – that the safety was one of the franchise's all-time greats, that Wilson would be going into the team's Ring of Honor at some point during the 2015 season.
Monday's press conference was about Wilson signing one more contract with the team, so he would officially retire as a member of the Cardinals. But as Bidwill offered up the pen for Wilson to sign, the 35-year-old couldn't resist.
"Is it one year, or …." Wilson asked, ever hopeful.
The quip drew laughs, even with the kernel of truth residing within it. Wilson finally closed the door on playing even after saying in January he was hopeful to get one more chance to play, saying between injuries, age, family needs and the "way that the game was going" it was probably best to retire.
At some point, Wilson is expected to have some role working with the team, but he pushed that notion aside Monday, saying he wanted some time to digest stepping away from the game. It's hard to believe he won't play a part in the Cardinals'
future, especially with his long-standing relationship with General Manager Steve Keim.
It was fitting that, despite preseason stints with the Patriots in 2013 and the Bears in 2014, the five-time Pro Bowler never played a regular-season down for any team but the Cardinals. It had been his goal to be a Cardinal for life, and even though the team released him after the 2012 season, that's exactly how it turned out for his 181 career games.
"My whole life, all I ever wanted to do was matter," Wilson said.
That meant turning a team around like the Cardinals, who were still a bad franchise when Wilson was their third-round draft pick in 2001. Keim, who has known Wilson since Keim was a strength coach at North Carolina State when Wilson was a 17-year-old freshman, was the scout who pushed to draft Wilson when Wilson came out as a raw talent after his junior season.
Wilson is one of only six players in NFL history with at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions, joining Ronde Barber, Brian Dawkins, Rodney Harrison, Ray Lewis and William Thomas. In his career, Wilson had 25½ sacks, 27 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, four touchdowns and 987 tackles. Known for his big hits, he and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson are the only two safeties in franchise history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls. His eight sacks in 2005 are the most in a season by an NFL defensive back.
"When we send our scouts on the road, we truly tell them, 'Let's find the next Adrian Wilson,' " Keim said.
What that was stretched far beyond his work on the field. There were other places Wilson certainly proved he would matter.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald recalled coming into training camp a few days late as a rookie in 2004 after a drawn-out contract process. That first practice, he was supposed to block Wilson.
"He threw me in the backfield," Fitzgerald said. "I was lying at Emmitt Smith's feet and I was like, 'Geez, this is what the NFL is like?' I made a couple plays later in the week and he came up and put his arm around me and was like, 'That wasn't anything personal. I just wanted to give you a taste. I know you're going to be a tremendous help to the ball club.' That was him letting me know he was the boss. I took heed and did my best not to cross his path too often."
Wilson could intimidate beyond receivers roaming the secondary. He could stare down reporters with the best of them, and even his own teammates. Current safety Rashad Johnson said when he was a rookie in 2009, Wilson was "pretty tough" on him. But early the following offseason, Johnson was home in Alabama when he got call from Wilson. Wilson told him to get back to Arizona because Johnson was going to work out with Wilson. It was the start of a relationship that turned into a friendship.
"With Adrian, you knew you'd always get 100 percent real," Johnson said. "There was never going to be any sugarcoating.
"What I liked about him the most was he didn't have to say much. His presence, the way he carried himself in the locker room, and on the field, spoke volumes. He wasn't going to talk a lot, but you understood when he was around, it was business."
Current cornerback Patrick Peterson took the microphone being used for the media during the press conference just to thank Wilson in his development.
"For me to come in and for Adrian take me under his wing and see the strides I have made in my career, I tip my hat to him," Peterson said later. "He's the guy who made me pretty much to who I am today."
That's what Wilson wanted. He will miss the games and the chance to get physical on an opponent, but he cherished the ability to carve a culture out of players and a team.
"I would like to think I had a hand in helping those guys kind of realize the way," Wilson said.
Johnson, Peterson and Fitzgerald were among a handful of teammates past and present on hand for Wilson's day. Wilson did have a few moments where he shed tears – he was never one to hide any of his emotions – but there were smiles too. Wilson didn't reach the end with the Cardinals in the straight line with which he had hoped, but he ended with the Cardinals as he wanted.
"I want to thank everybody who supported Adrian Wilson from day one," Wilson said. "I will always be here as an Arizona Cardinal."
Images of Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, who announced his retirement April 20, through the years