O’Connell: Remembering Weddle’s Legacy As He Walks Away From Football
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Today, my little brother Patrick’s favorite player announced his retirement from the NFL.
We just talked about it. Patrick decided that the timing makes sense, and thinks that a HOF bid a realistic possibility in the future. Patrick’s favorite NFL player is Eric Weddle; a Utes legend, a favorite son of San Diego, Ravens-fan favorite, Rams captain, and seemingly the best-liked teammate in football history.
Ever since his hometown Chargers drafted him 37th overall in 2007, Eric Weddle has built a legacy characterized by passion, intelligence, and fierce competitive drive. His on-field presence garnered the slew of honors mentioned in his farewell tweet. As impressive as those things are, I don’t think they paint anything close to a complete picture of Eric Weddle the person. He is very obviously a generational talent as a football player. You don’t play as long as he did, as well as he did, unless you are truly exceptional. Being All-Pro, Pro-Bowler, and Team Captain for multiple NFL franchises puts one into rarified air that’s almost impossible for a fan to understand.
Still, what makes Eric Weddle an absolute legend is the manner in which he has carried himself through all of this achievement. It is one thing to be a great player. It is another thing altogether to maintain that level as a competitor while also being a devoted husband, doting father, loyal friend and all-around phenomenal human. I am lucky enough to have stayed in touch with my buddy E-Dub, and he is the same affable, generous, hilarious guy that he was when we took a nutrition class together at the University of Utah during his freshman year. I’ll always admire the way that he never let his fame or money change who he was as a person.
I racked my brain trying to figure out what brilliant stories to write to try and convey the greatness of Eric Weddle as a human, and since a half-dozen came to mind, I decided I should settle on the one that is most personal to me (and my brother Patrick). I suppose it’s important to let you know that my brother Patrick is classified as special-needs. Specifically, he falls into the category of traumatic-brain-injured persons due to a stroke he suffered as a baby. He is extremely high-functioning, holds a steady job, takes excellent care of his dog, and is wildly hilarious (sometimes unintentionally). He is also the biggest NFL fan I know; obsessive over scores, stats, contracts, and personnel moves in the League. He was always a huge Baltimore Ravens fan. But for years now –even well before Weddle landed in Baltimore- #32 has been his favorite player.
That’s because we’ve been going to at least one of Eric’s games every season for quite a while now. Every single time, Eric gets us tickets. He leaves them at will-call, and we are always beneficiaries of his generosity because the seats are definitely better than they should be. He also leaves passes to the friends and family section for postgame, regardless of the stadium. Win or lose, rain or shine, hurt or not, he takes the time to come chat. It means a lot to me, sure. After all, Eric is an old friend that I have known for fifteen+ years now.
I wish I could make you understand how much it means to my brother Patrick. My little brother gets to talk with his favorite player, and his favorite player gives him a hug every time he sees him. Even if the game didn’t go well, Eric smiles and tells Patrick how happy he is that he came to watch. Every time. Eric talks to my little brother, who adores him, like an old buddy, and signs whatever #32 jersey Patrick has decided to wear to that particular game. Even when he doesn’t have much time, because the team bus is going to leave soon, Weddle gives Patrick some undivided attention and snaps some pictures before he goes.
I know that Eric treats everybody with this sort of kindness and humanity, so for him, it might be a small thing. For my awesome little brother, who hasn’t gotten a lot of easy breaks in life, it is the highlight of his year. Every year. He gets to tell his buddies about going to watch his friend Eric Weddle play, and show them the pictures from the stadium in Baltimore, or Tennessee, or Atlanta, or San Diego. I am sure there are hundreds of Ute fans, Charger fans, Ravens fans, and Rams fans, who have had similar experiences, but that one is ours. I hope it shows a little piece of what makes Eric Weddle special, beyond what has been obvious on our televisions for the last sixteen or so years.
Lastly, I hope everyone congratulating Eric on his fantastic career today realizes that his football legacy is far from over. He is a gridiron savant, and it’s only a matter of time before he is coaching or working in a front office. Ultimately, I think he’ll be an NFL General Manager, and an excellent one. For now, we should appreciate what he has done on the football field, and more importantly, tip our hats to the person he is and always has been off of it.
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