Images from Adrian Wilson's 12 seasons with the Cardinals
There were dozens of retired NFL players walking around the Super Bowl's Radio Row Wednesday, but Adrian Wilson was not one of them.
Wilson took his spin on the circuit looking fit as ever in his suit. The Cardinals' former Pro Bowl safety hasn't played in a regular-season game in two years and never signed with a team after the Bears cut him during the 2014 preseason. His time around the NFL this season was at Cardinals' practices and games, as General Manager Steve Keim talked to his long-time friend about a professional life after playing.
It's just that Wilson isn't ready for "after." Not yet.
"I've had people ask what I was doing as far as if I was playing," Wilson said. "I give them a generic answer because for me to sit there and explain how my emotions are tapped into football, it would take days for me to do that."
The dream will not die. Wilson, who will be 36 in October, works out every day. To see him is to see a guy who looks like he could step into a defense. He remains in fantastic shape, which is probably one of the reasons various NFL coaches that saw him at the Senior Bowl – Wilson was in Mobile with Keim – asked him why he wasn't still playing.
It's moments like that that push him to play again. It's seeing Raiders safety Charles Woodson, at 38 playing well and earning another one-year contract, that pushes him to play again.
"I haven't known him that long, a couple of years, but he's one of those guys he is so motivated, I think he can accomplish anything," Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "It'll be good to see him get his shot again. Woodson is still playing, that's motivating him."
Wilson spent 2013 on injured reserve after a bad heel injury that needed surgery and actually took a long time to rehab – so much so that Wilson believes he wasn't all the way back when he took his turn for the Bears.
The Bears cut Wilson only because fellow veteran Chris Conte was coming back from injury, Wilson said. "There was really no reason for them to let me go," he said, and that too has entered into his thinking that he can make a successful return.
"My passion now is kind of where it was my second and third year, not because I feel I have something to prove but because of the way it ended and the uncertainty," Wilson said. "The uncertainty of me being able to help a team, it fuels me more than it probably does the next guy. I just want to play to prove, not only to myself but to guys my age it's still a possibility."
He thinks his explosion has returned post-injury. He just wants a shot on a roster.
Wilson isn't picky. He doesn't care about the money or the role at this point, understanding both would be limited. He would love to play for the Cardinals but acknowledges "I believe that ship has kind of sailed." Nevertheless, he won't totally close that door. No doors are closed when you are looking for any way in.
"It's tough," Mathieu said. "This is your life. Yeah, I'm a two-year pro but I've been playing football since I was 5. I'm a 15-year pro. It'll be tough to finally walk away from it."
Wilson doesn't want to walk away. Not yet. The rest of his life is going to be there, whenever he gets around to it.
"I will continue to work out," Wilson said. "Hopefully I'll get a shot."