If nothing else, Eric Herman will go down in Giants history as the answer to a morbid trivia question:
Who was the last player to make contact with David Wilson on a football field?
It was Herman, the Giants’ offensive lineman, who Wilson ran into during last week’s practice, giving the running back a burner that resulted in tests on his surgically repaired neck and, long story short, his never playing football again.
At the time it happened, though, Herman didn’t even realize anything significant or peculiar was taking place.
“I looked it up after on film,” Herman said on Tuesday. “People were talking about it and I didn’t even realize it at first. It was just unfortunate that it happened. It was just a regular draw play and I guess he ran into me. That’s just how it went. Kind of unfortunate that it had to be that way, but I wish him the best of luck in everything and he’ll do well, I know he will.”
While the Giants come to grips with the loss of Wilson, many stare their own professional mortality in the eye. Eli Manning spoke about the stenosis that runs in his family. Stenosis is a painful condition produced from a narrowing of the spinal cord. It ended the career of his brother Cooper before it even began and threatened to end that of his other brother Peyton Manning.
“If you try to put yourself in his shoes and if I was told in my third year that you should not play football anymore for health reasons, that would be a tough thing to swallow,” Manning said. “I think it hits home whether you have a brother or not, it hits home for every football player . . . Having a brother that was told that, and Cooper was told that in college and had to have major surgery to fix the problem, I feel for David and him.”
Linebacker Jameel McClain spoke about overcoming his own case of stenosis and a bruised spinal cord in December 2012 and returning to the field. According to reports from Baltimore where McClain played the first six seasons of his career for the Ravens, McClain, like Wilson, was told by a doctor that he would never play football again.
But here he is, starting for the Giants.
“It’s a wild situation,” McClain said. “Sometimes nature and God has a plan in a million ways. Mine was something that just needed to heal in time. It was possible it could heal and it was possible that it couldn’t. I had to live with that.”
Unlike Wilson, McClain did not have neck surgery.
“All we could do was sit back, take another picture in three weeks, take another picture in three weeks, take another picture in three weeks,” he said. “It was like drawing blood from me. But it all panned out. I believed and my family believed and I just focused like I was going to come back.”
That’s obviously not always the case. And Herman said anyone who steps onto the field knows that the next snap could be their last.
“He was just playing his game and I was playing mine and we met up at some point on the field and his body didn’t react to it, didn’t really like it,” Herman said. “It’s something, being a football player, things like this kind of happen. It’s really unfortunate that it did. It’s something you have to take into account and play your game. Sometimes it happens.”