ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — The peace Eric Wood has found in his retirement from football radiated from his smile Sunday as the honorary Bills Legend of the Game wore his old No. 70 jersey in the end zone at Highmark Stadium and kindled the frenzy of 70,000 fans by bellowing Marv Levy’s famed maxim — “Where else would you rather be, than right here right, right now?”
There was a time Wood wanted nothing more than to be in the trenches with his teammates, at the center of a sold-out stadium. He was dismayed by the discovery of a career-ending spinal injury following one of the most fulfilling seasons in his 10-year pro career. Wood retired in early 2018 during Pro Bowl week when he otherwise would have been celebrating the part he played in ending Buffalo’s 17-season playoff drought, and the recent birth of his son.
Searching his soul and reaching out to his tribe of mentors, Wood eventually pivoted toward new ambitions, nimble as he was at his center position on the field. Wood began broadcasting Bills games for radio and college games for ACC Network. He launched a podcast titled “What’s Next With Eric Wood,” and insights from those conversations put him on the path to authoring “Tackle What’s Next: Own Your Story, Stack Wins, and Achieve Your Goals in Business and Life.”
The book releasing Tuesday “is for Bills fans, football fans, and anybody in life that wants to make their next chapter the best chapter,” Wood said at the start of an extended Western New York weekend stay, which included launching Eric Wood’s Blonde Ale at Resurgence Brewing Company on Saturday, and his annual Flights and Bites fundraiser Monday night at Resurgence to benefit the Evan Wood Fund honoring his late brother.
The book contains several anecdotes from Wood’s career with the Bills that help to illustrate life lessons he strives to impart. The foreword was written by Bills coach Sean McDermott.
“The first time I met Sean McDermott was in his office in Buffalo, and I looked behind him at the number of books he had displayed in his office. I had read most of them, and I knew at that point we would get along. We were philosophically aligned,” Wood recalled.
“There is nobody who embodies the messages that are in the book like Sean McDermott did for me on a day-to-day basis. Controlling what you can control, creating a vision, having core values, using your gifts — that is what Sean McDermott exudes. It was an honor for me that Sean agreed to do the forward for the book. And the words he put to paper blew me away when I first read them.”
In the foreword, McDermott wrote, “I know there are many people who struggle with major transitions in life. Take a page from Eric’s playbook — take a close look at your process and what you’re doing every day. I know you’ll be inspired by Eric’s journey and adopt those basic principles that will lead to great success on your own path.”
Wood wasn’t prepared for the emotional unrest that came after his forced retirement from football at age 31. Joining the Bills radio broadcast team during what has become one of the most exciting periods in franchise history has helped Wood find contentment in his new role.
“The way my career ended, I wasn’t ready to be done with pro football,” Wood said. “I wasn’t ready to be done with my time in Buffalo, and my time with the Bills. I had just signed a contract extension before the 2017 season. For me to be back here in the capacity that I am, to be able to track and follow this team, it has been very good for me and my transition out of football.”
When extending Wood’s contract in 2017, the Bills hoped he would be able to mentor a new quarterback the team planned to draft the following spring, he said. Wood never got to play with Josh Allen. But getting to know the new face of the franchise and watching from his vantage in the radio booth has provided Wood some of the thrills he would have enjoyed as a teammate.
“To have a competitor and talent like that at quarterback, it’s rare in the NFL,” Wood said. “When you find one like the Bills have in Josh, you’re very fortunate. The wins come a lot easier when you have a guy like him running the show. I would’ve absolutely loved to play with Josh. But even in the capacity I am in now as a casual friend and big-time fan, I enjoy that as well.”
Wood also enjoys having Allen on his fantasy roster.
“I have Josh Allen on my fantasy team, I’ve got the Bills defense, and I’ve got Tyler Bass,” Wood said. “I’m pretty much all in on the Bills.”
Having achieved fulfillment away from the sport that defined his life for so many years, the question begs, what’s next for Eric Wood?
“Hopefully a Bills’ Super Bowl win, and riding around on a parade bus right next to my man Brandon Beane,” Wood said. “He promised me I’d be right next to him when that day comes. I don’t know if I’ll be running security, or enjoying the parade.
“But a Bills’ Super Bowl would be a ton of fun. This city deserves it.”