By Ernie Palladino
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Once he officially retires at the end of the season, David Wilson will be recalled as a promising running back whose skeletal structure kept him from greatness.
He will, of course, stand as a mere afterthought at that point. Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams likely will have spent the Giants season splitting up whatever rushing yards exist in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense. Wilson, whose Oct. 6 touchdown against Philadelphia marked his final end zone backflip, will be contemplating a newer, safer career by then.
This is a good thing. Spinal stenosis, a congenital narrowing of the spinal column, puts high-contact athletes in danger of permanent paralysis. The doctors made a mistake in clearing Wilson for contact less than 12 months after his collision that game necessitated spinal fusion surgery. He was lucky to get away with a burner in a collision during drills last Tuesday.
That is why he exhibited no sadness in Monday’s announcement that he was done with football. He was lucky, and he knows it. And now he gets to walk away with all his faculties and live life in normal fashion. He gets to walk around without a limp, play pickup basketball if he wishes, to “dream another dream,” as he said. Presumably, that next dream will not involve angry 300-pound men trying to knock him all the way to Secaucus.
At 23, after 21 games in a professional football uniform, Wilson becomes just like us. And like anyone else, he will make of the rest of his life whatever he wills.
What his departure means for the Giants’ season is another story. Wilson was always the wild card here, as no one was ever 100 percent certain that he would last the year. Still, he would have served as the second running back at least, a real change of pace from the strong, hard-charging Jennings.
That role now goes to the fourth-round rookie Williams. The 230-pounder out of Boston College looked the part in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game win over Buffalo, powering his way to a 3-yard touchdown run amid his 48 yards on seven carries. Whether he can catch a pass or protect the quarterback on third down remains to be seen, but Williams got himself off to a good start.
The Jennings-Williams tandem showed great potential to keep the chains moving, a fundamental goal of McAdoo’s offense. The ground game collected 121 yards, 71 of them coming from Jennings and Williams.
If the backfield can fall into a rhythm, as they did on its 10 carries for 62 yards on the Williams TD drive, the pressure on Eli Manning and the passing game will ease immeasurably.
“I like this offense because we have tools,” Jennings said after the game. “We have tools to fix any problem a defense throws at us.”
By the time the Jennings-Williams rotation shows any results worth serious analysis, Wilson and his short career will be far from anyone’s mind. Football is cold-hearted that way. Players either contribute or get out of the way. Wilson’s injury and the threat of even more serious consequences should he have elected to try again forced him to step aside.
There is no sadness in that. Emptiness in greatness unfulfilled, perhaps. Frustration in the inability to continue because of nature, not lack of talent. But as Wilson said, he lived his dream for a short time, which is a lot longer than many get to live theirs.
And his thankfully didn’t end in a wheelchair nightmare.
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