Scores of people gathered in the Buffalo Bills field house on Monday afternoon to celebrate the suddenly-ended career of Center Eric Wood. But after nearly an hour of waiting, there wasn’t much time to celebrate.
Wood strode across the turf and up to a podium in front of family, friends and Buffalo Bills teammates on Monday. In a statement lasting less than two minutes, he made official much of the news that Bills fans found out through a leak on Friday.
After consultation with team doctor Andrew Cappuccino in a post-season physical, Wood has been diagnosed with a neck injury that will prevent him from being able to play football.
“Even with further treatment, rehab, or surgery, a return is not possible,” said Wood.
Wood quickly left the podium and exited the field house, but first he went on to explain that he got his first “stinger” – a nerve pinch injury common to athletes in contact sports – in week five of the football season, and another the week after. X-rays of his neck, at the time, revealed no significant damage, and Head Coach Sean McDermott said Wood was not limited by the injury during the season.
In the post-season physical, an MRI that revealed a disc dangerously close to Wood’s spinal cord at the C-2 and C-3 vertebrae.
“As you can imagine, this news floored me,” said Wood.
Wood has spent his entire NFL career with the Bills, and the news came just days before the team would take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first playoff match in 17 seasons. It also came just an hour before the birth of his second child, his son Garrett.
Though he called the news “unfortunate,” McDermott spoke in more positive terms of Wood’s time with the Bills, noting that the playoff match came at the tail end of a career spent entirely with one team – something most players don’t get to do.
“It makes me feel good for Eric, his family, and the rest of his teammates. It really does,” said McDermott. “I’ll never forget the look on Eric’s face. You have still memories that stay with you for a long time and that’s one of them that I remember, distinctly, when Eric came off the field from the coin toss – the look in his eyes that he was in a situation he hadn’t been in before and he was excited for the opportunity.”
Members of the Bills staff spoke in glowing terms of their respect for Wood not only as an athlete, but as a leader.
“I knew of him before I arrived in Buffalo,” said McDermott.” He’s well-respected around the league, and my impression of Eric did not change over the last 12 months, if you will, give or take here. His leadership on the field, in the community, is just tremendous.”
Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said Wood’s leadership was part of the reason the team re-signed him in August.
Former Buffalo Bills Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the team in the same season as Wood. The two spent four years playing together and became what Fitzpatrick described as lifelong friends. After flying in from Florida, where he currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fitzpatrick stood with other past and present members of the Bills to support Wood during Monday’s announcement.
“I’m just very proud of his career,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s unfortunate, you know, the way that it ended in terms of him kind of being forced out and his body not cooperating. But he did an amazing job. He’s got a lot to be proud of. Now he’s got two beautiful kids, and a beautiful wife to ride off into the sunset with.”
Fitzpatrick noted that this is not the first time Wood has battled injuries during his time on the field, always working hard to make a comeback. But McDermott said Wood has done his due diligence in getting second opinions about the injury before making his decision to no longer play football.
“I am still on the Bills roster, and look forward to helping out the team in some capacity,” said Wood towards the end of his statement.
“I’m sure there a lot of unanswered questions and I hope to address those at a later date.”
Those questions include whether Wood will officially retire or be released with an injury settlement. Bills officials said Wood will remain on the team’s roster until final decisions on his status are made, and they passed over questions regarding who might replace him on the team.
“I’m not going to get into all that,” said Head Coach Sean McDermott.
“Today is Eric’s day.”
Read the complete transcript of Eric Wood's brief statement:
“Sorry for the delay and thank you to everyone who came out today. This press conference was set up a couple of weeks ago in light of me finding out about the injury an hour before my son Garrett was born.
“As many of you already know, given the leak on Friday, Dr. Cappuccino has informed me that I will no longer be able to play football, given the neck injury. Even with further treatment, rehab, or surgery, a return is not possible. In week five, I got the first stinger of my life and I got one the following week. After that game we did an x-ray on my neck that showed no significant damage. After the season, as part of the exit physical, we got an MRI that revealed a disc that was dangerously close to my spinal cord at C-2, C-3, and that was alarming.
“As you can imagine, this news floored me, as I was merely days away from the first playoff game of my career. Although I will no longer be cleared to play football, I am still on the Bills roster, and look forward to helping out the team in some capacity.
“Thanks to everyone who supported me throughout my career. Because of that, I am here today. I’m sure there are a lot of unanswered questions and I hope to address those at a later date. Thanks, and go Bills.”
Follow WBFO's Avery Schneider on Twitter at @SAvery131.