Eric Wood admits there’s nothing quite like game day. At times, he’ll be down on the football field before a game, walking around just like the old days, soaking in the atmosphere before heading up to his job in the booth as an analyst in the press box.
You can never replace how it felt to be an NFL player, to prepare and suit up every week for the physical grind of competing. He’s still only 33, two years removed from his days as the Bills’ starting center. Sure, he misses it.
“Yeah, I do,” Wood said Thursday by phone from his home in Louisville. “But honestly, part of the good news is the finality of the way my career ended. There was no way I could come back, so I was never going to be able to second-guess myself.
“You definitely miss the miss the adrenaline of prepping for a game, getting ready to go compete and all that. If you’re the best in the world at something and you work your tail off at it, you’re definitely going to miss it. But with the finality of the injury, there’s no sense wasting too much emotional capital.”
Wood, who played for the Bills from 2009-2017, was a willing and reliable resource for the Buffalo media during his career. He wasn’t one to stir controversy, but he provided insights into the nuances of offensive football while holding an abiding affection for the city and its fans.
So Wood was a natural to move into the announcing booth after football. It’s just that he didn’t expect it to happen so soon. In the summer of 2017, he signed a two-year extension with the Bills at age 31. The team snapped its 17-year playoff drought that season in the first year of the Sean McDermott-Brandon Beane era,.
Then, while Wood was in the delivery room with his wife, Leslie, about an hour before the birth of his son, he got the word from team doctors. Tests had revealed two disks in his neck, dangerously close to his spinal cord. He would be risking his long-term health if he played again.
Wood was shocked. Just like that, his career was through. He could no longer play the game he had loved since he was boy — and he truly loved football, more than a lot of NFL players. He even loved playing in Thursday games.
But he quickly accepted his situation. He thought about coaching. Wood has always been a student of the game, good at breaking down tape and finding tendencies. The competitor in him was drawn to the idea of coaching, being intimately tied up in the winning and losing.
“I would love to be a coach,” he said, “to have more skin in the game, to feel a win and a loss. Coaching is appealing. I think I would be good at it. It think it would be rewarding. But the amount of hours those guys put in nowadays, I am not willing at this point to be away from my family that much.”
Wood, who played at Louisville and lives there with his wife and two children (a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son) turned to the broadcast booth. He had done a weekly radio show on WGR as a player. He had watched and learned as the media did its work covering the team.
“I think you naturally take mental notes,” Wood said. “Every day at the facility, the media availability at your locker. At times, I would co-host radio shows in the offseason to fully delve into it. You pick up things.”
Some would say he’s a natural. Last spring, Wood signed on to be the Bills’ radio analyst alongside Lockport native John Murphy on the game telecasts. He also took a job doing college football games on TV as an analyst for the ACC Network.
Wood has received positive reviews for his work on the Bills radio broadcasts, where he replaced Mark Kelso. Alan Pergament, the respected veteran TV critic for The Buffalo News, gave Wood high praise for his performance as a first-year analyst. His main criticism was that Wood said “we” and that he came off as too much of a homer.
“I appreciate any and all feedback,” said Wood, who will be the subject of this year’s WGR celebrity roast. “So I really appreciated that article. As for the ‘we’ thing, part of my job description as the radio analyst is to be pro-Bills. I never want to give a biased opinion. I want to call a fair game, but I’m supposed to talk about the Bills 80-90 percent of the time, because that’s what our listeners want to hear.
“They like it when I saw ‘we’ or give anecdotes from when I played or my experience with McDermott. So yes, it would be tough for me to be the radio analyst and not say ‘we.'"
It would be another thing if Wood were doing Bills games — or Louisville, for that matter — as part of a neutral national broadcast. But when you’re speaking largely to the fan base, it’s understandable if you lean toward the home perspective, especially when you know a lot of people in the organization and consider them friends.
But he knows he’s a novice and invites criticism. Wood has talked with other football analysts and tries to take a little bit from all of them. One thing he’s learned is not to talk too much. Crisp and concise is best.
“Murph needs to paint the picture,” he said. “If I keep rambling and the listeners don’t understand what just happened, the ‘why’ I offer doesn’t matter. I need to let Murph set up the play.
“He’s phenomenal to work with, an unbelievable professional and I think he does an incredible job of setting up plays and describing them as they happen. I’m there to provide the why, to give some context.”
Wood knows that Bills fans are loyal, and he now realizes that many of them turn down the sound on the TV broadcast to listen to the local guys on the radio.
“At first, I thought only my wife and my mom and dad were doing that,” he said. “But yeah, people have told me that on Twitter. What a compliment that is. Mike Tirico was calling the Bills-Patriots game this year. He said, 'Yeah, I’ve told guys to turn off the game and listen to you and Murph on the radio.'”
Today in Houston, Wood will do the biggest game of his brief announcing career when the Bills take on the Texans in an AFC wild-card game. His final NFL game was the Bills’ first playoff game in 18 years.
It would be something if his first playoff game in the booth was his former team’s first postseason win since 1995.
“That would be awesome,” said Wood, whose Eric Wood Fund is a major fund-raiser for Oishei Children’s Hospital. “I’m really pulling for them. This is a winnable game, a tight point spread, a matchup where the Bills won’t be overwhelmed by any means. They’ve showed they can compete with anybody in the league.
“They went toe-to-toe with top teams in the AFC and hopefully they catch a little stride here in early January and make a little run.”
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.