Football is cruel. It’s cold, it’s unforgiving, and it can be absolutely crushing. Soon, we may look back on today as the day that brutal nature of the game finally ended David Wilson’s career, at the ripe of 23.
There’s nothing definitive quite yet saying he’s played his last snap, but the New York Giants running back is facing far more darkness than optimism. He suffered a “burner” last week at practice, an early setback to a neck injury that required spinal fusion surgery, and an offseason of recovery.
Now, after reports that Wilson would “need a miracle” to make a return, the end seems here: he’s been shut down. ESPN’s Josina Anderson repeated words often associated with Wilson over the past year, saying there’s a belief this time, and after this setback, Wilson’s career could be over. It’s a report echoed by Newsday’s Bob Glauber, whose sources told him Wilson’s time calling football his profession is “most likely” done.
Just like that, the running back position takes another victim, though this one is far younger than most.
Often a sudden exit for a running back is the product of pounding, or a runner who lacks the same explosiveness after an injury. For example, during a time when it was common practice to feed running backs the football until limbs began to fall, Larry Johnson was given 826 touches in a two-year period, prompting his sharp decline. Or there’s Terrell Davis, who became one of only seven running backs in league history to finish with over 2,000 rushing yards in a season (1998). Then he tore his ACL and MCL the next year, and was never the same, accumulating only 1,194 rushing yards over the following three seasons.
But the difference between Wilson’s fate and those of Johnson and Davis (and so many others like them in the vast running back graveyard), is that the latter two at least had a chance to shine, and to produce. Johnson had two seasons with over 1,700 rushing yards, and Davis has a Super Bowl ring.
Wilson? If he’s gone, we’re left with the promise of 327 all-purpose yards during a 2012 win over the Saints. That’s a Giants single-game franchise record, and a day that included a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown, and four plays for over 50 yards. We’re left to wonder if Wilson could have put his fumble problems to bed for good (he had a streak of 39 touches without one before his season-ending injury last year, which is…something), and return to being the back who averaged five yards per carry during his rookie season.
The Giants will be fine, and have enough depth at the position between newly signed Rashad Jennings, and Andre Williams, a fourth-round draft pick whose final year at Boston College ended with the fifth most single-season rushing yards in college football history.
But Wilson is now set for the same fate as Jahvid Best, becoming a uniquely explosive running back gone far too soon.