Tomorrow's column tonight: Eric Wood

From the response I got on one of my blog entries (below), I know a lot of folks were hoping I’d write about ESPN’s portrayal of the Bobby Petrino era at U of L as “a mess.” But the fact is, I’ve already devoted an entire column to that, and parts of five or six others. Tonight I posted some comments of Tom Jurich’s from late in Petrino’s tenure, to demonstrate that at the time, nobody at U of L viewed this program as a fixer-upper. At the same time, Jurich has said several times since that he wasn’t aware of some issues within the program at that time, so I haven’t used those comments in the paper, and don’t plan to.

I was, however, disappointed when I heard the ESPN analysis, as it seems everyone had moved beyond this line of thinking in the past week.

Let’s get this straight. I don’t think Tom Jurich is telling ESPN what to say. I think he may have, at some point in the past, spoken with people from there and given his view of the way things have gone the way they have, and network commentators have run with it. But what was said during today’s U of L-WVU broadcast was too much, and was so out of sync with reality that I wanted somehow to demonstrate it. And I did.

And lest anyone question why I would keep this issue alive, I didn’t. ESPN kept it alive. For my part, I think it needs to fade away!

Now, on to the column. Rather than that nonsense, I felt strongly about devoting this column to a player who greatly deserved the recognition — Eric Wood. As I say at the outset of this piece, there’s going to be plenty of time to weigh in on this team and season. But today was an opportunity to to tell the story of a player who probably isn’t appreciated as much as he should be — even though he’s appreciated a lot.

Cards’ Wood says goodbye with class

By ERIC CRAWFORD

There’s plenty of time for the autopsy on this University of Louisville football season.

The problems for this program, in fact, aren’t going anywhere.

But Eric Wood is.

The senior center played his last game in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium yesterday. And while there will be plenty of documentary evidence to record yesterday’s 35-21 loss to West Virginia and its ramifications, somebody needs to record Wood’s day, because numbers and statistics will not.

In fact, there couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred U of L fans who saw what Wood did after congratulating West Virginia’s players and accepting a handshake from West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who had sought him out. While his teammates were streaming toward the locker room, Wood went a different direction.

He headed toward the stands and started circling to shake hands with the few fans who remained.

“I just thought, the people that stayed, we should appreciate them a little bit,” Wood said.

But before he moves on to the NFL, it is Wood who should be appreciated. Yesterday, in a game that was little more than a sad footnote in a deflating season, Wood played one of the finest games you’ve ever seen a Cardinals offensive lineman play. For a line that injuries have left as dilapidated as old Cardinal Stadium, the game plan simply was this – run behind Wood.

And the Cardinals did. They sent running backs straight up the middle, for 5, 6, 7 yards. I counted a dozen times when Wood was still driving a linebacker back when the run finished downfield.

That he played well is not in itself remarkable, because he’s done that for four years, for 48 consecutive starts. But I’ve seen NFL-bound seniors here before. I’ve seen them dial it down a notch once nothing major was on the line. I’ve seen high draft hopefuls become timid, fearful of injury.

You’ve never seen that from Wood. He has played most of the season with a strained knee ligament. He’s missed more practices than he’d like to admit. Nobody would’ve blamed him for sitting. But he wouldn’t.

“Yeah,” he said, “there have been times when I just wanted to sit on the field and let them come get me. But we don’t do that here. Stefan LeFors came back when he had concussions. Travis Leffew and Jason Spitz never took plays off. That’s not who I am.”

Even Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart singled him out afterward.

“He is one of the stars of our league,” Stewart said. “And he is pure class.”

My most memorable moment with Wood came in the summer of 2006, in the film room, as he broke down Miami with a clicker in his hand. He not only could explain line schemes, he could point out where defensive backs were tipping what they were going to do in coverage. He could hardly sit in the chair, talking about how the Cardinals were going to exploit the Hurricanes.

Those days seem a long time ago. Wood represents a powerful link to them.

So often, linemen are told to finish their blocks. As center, Wood has pulled the trigger on some of the biggest plays in U of L football history. Yesterday, at the end of a lost-cause game in a half-empty stadium for a faltering team, he played like it was the Orange Bowl.

He finished his blocks. And that’s worth remembering.

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