When the 23-year old Wilson, who was waived-injured by the Giants on Tuesday, spoke of his teammates, he paused twice and brushed away tears with the pocket handkerchief from his blue pinstriped suit.
“You have great players, some of them probably will end up in the Hall of Fame, and they support you,” Wilson said. “That’s such a great feeling.”
Coach Tom Coughlin, hugged Wilson and gave him a long embrace as the two passed in front of each other before practice.
“It’s always tough when you have one of your players come to the end, no matter however it comes, it’s never pleasant,” Coughlin said. “It’s very disappointing and upsetting. You have to prepare yourself for the next challenge, the next adventure. I think David’s ready for that.”
Wilson made sure that everyone knew that he wasn’t sad about his forced retirement.
“These are tears of joy,” Wilson said. “Don’t think I’m sad. There’s no need to dwell on the negative, because if you do, then you feel sorry for yourself and you’re not living. I’m still healthy. I’ll still be able to do the things that I could always do, except play football.”
Wilson, the Giants’ first-round selection of the 2012 draft out of Virginia Tech, had a solid rookie season. He led the NFL in kickoff return yardage, earning 1,533 yards, setting a Giants record. He also rushed for 358 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Wilson’s 1,925 all-purpose yards were the sixth-highest in team history and the best for a Giants rookie. He had 327 all-purpose yards in a game against the New Orleans Saints, going for 227 yards on kickoff returns and adding 100 yards rushing.
Wilson played in only five games last season before suffering the serious neck injury last October. An MRI showed that Wilson had spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cord. Wilson had only 146 yards on 44 carries and one touchdown before the injury.
Wilson underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair vertebrae and a herniated disc in his neck in January.
He had received clearance to return to football activities at the start of training camp two weeks ago. But last Tuesday, Wilson caught a pass during a drill, put his head down and ran into the back of an offensive lineman. That hit caused numbness in his hands and lower extremities.
“It was a scary feeling,” Wilson said. “I can’t hide that fact. But at the same time, I felt perfectly fine and was totally optimistic. I hoped and prayed that I would be cleared. When I say I was really positive, that’s what I was. I expected to come back.”
But Giants team doctors and the spinal specialist that operated on Wilson in January both agreed that it would be best for Wilson to step away from the game.
“The doctors dealt with this injury before and I’m comfortable with their answer,” Wilson said. “They told me that I would live a healthy life. I have a long life to live. I’m only 23 years old. I’ve been blessed. I lived my dream by playing in the NFL. I was drafted in the first round. I have guys here who support me in whatever I do.”
Wilson said that he had no immediate plans for his future. He might consider broadcasting or coaching.
“All of these things came to mind,” Wilson said. “I have to see what I do next and see what happens.”
His teammates expressed their feelings about Wilson’s unexpected retirement.
“He was the heart and soul of this team, a great energy guy,” Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz said. “It’s unfortunate that this happened. He’s still a part of this family and I wish him the best. It’s really sad and something I can relate to. No one really can. It definitely shows how fortunate and lucky the rest of us are. He had the opportunity to play taken from him. It puts everything in perspective and really took me back and got me thinking.”