Flashback: Eric Wood

Former University of Louisville center Eric Wood was drafted in the first round yesterday by the Buffalo Bills. I thought it worth taking one more look back at his career, to a column I wrote about him after his final game as a Cardinal.

Cards’ Wood says goodbye with class

Nov. 23, 2008

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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