Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson takes a moment to himself in the closing moments of the team's NFC Championship win over the Eagles during the 2008 season.
The invitation had come out of the blue, really – at least for me – but Adrian Wilson pulled me aside in the locker room on this offseason day and asked if I would want to go back to High Point, North Carolina, later in the summer. Wilson was going to have his high school jersey retired, and wanted to know if I wanted to chronicle it.
It was a chance to see Wilson in his hometown. But it became more than that.
Sunday, Wilson is going into the Cardinals Ring of Honor. It's the path the former Pro Bowl safety chose to take early in his career with the team. He wanted to play for just one team. He wanted to be one of the reasons the franchise could win after too
much losing. He always was fiercely loyal, and careful with whom he let inside his life.
"You don't ever want to really expose yourself too much to people you don't really know," Wilson said during that trip back to High Point in 2010.
So it was fair to wonder exactly how this visit would go, as Wilson drove us around High Point with a personal tour from his life. I had known Wilson for nearly a decade, but had just found out right before the trip that he had a brother, and that his brother had been killed. I wasn't sure how much Wilson would want to talk about it – if at all – but he was open and honest about being there, waiting in his brother's car when he was shot.
Wilson recounted this in his Players Tribune piece that was posted this week, and those memories made it into my story about Wilson back in 2010. It wasn't the only thing Wilson opened up about during that trip. He talked about his dad, who was around but not around as Wilson grew up. He talked about his mom and how much she worked to give Wilson a chance.
Those are details in Wilson's fascinating story. But mostly, it drove home Wilson's genuineness. His personality on the field was
the same as it was off it – driven, sometimes grumpy but always real. No one could ever accuse Wilson of being a phony.
Even now, Wilson can't help but be honest. He's working in the Cardinals' front office, because "I need it."
"I need football as much as football needed me," he said Friday during a Ring of Honor press conference.
That's why it took Wilson as long as it did to bid farewell to his playing career.
But that loyalty he lived by served him well. He wanted to stay with the Cardinals. He absorbed the pay cut he was asked to take in 2012 so he could stay with the Cardinals. He dealt with his release after that season as professionally as anyone could, knowing he wanted a future connection with the team of which he had long been part.
That's why, when Wilson was cut, part of the press release was about his eventual induction into the Ring of Honor. The Cardinals weren't going to wait with that news, and even if there was a detour through preseasons with the Patriots and Bears, the future was always understood.
Back in 2010, with his high school honoring him and his family growing around him, Wilson talked about his push to leave a legacy.
"Nobody in my family has one and I'll be the first," he said.
Wilson has plenty of life left to live, but his name emblazoned inside University of Phoenix Stadium is tangible proof of what he's already done.
"I've given my sons and my daughter something to be proud about," Wilson said.
Coach Bruce Arians declined to announce his starting offensive line for Sunday, saying he has a "pretty good idea" who he will have at right tackle. Bobby Massie, returning from suspension, and Earl Watford are the candidates. Guard Mike Iupati was limited again with his knee and his availability also is a game-day decision. …
Running back Andre Ellington did finally practice Friday on a limited basis but is doubtful for the Cardinals. Running back Reggie Bush, who did not practice all week with a bad calf, is listed as doubtful for the 49ers. …
Arians said cornerback Patrick Peterson will replace the injured J.J. Nelson as punt returner but wide receiver Brittan Golden will also field some punts.
Images of former safety Adrian Wilson as he is inducted into the Cardinals' Ring of Honor