(Note: Since I’ve begun here at The Wire, I’ve enjoyed writing on a lot of different surrounding the football program at Commerce. It’s a rare occasion when it’s a tough one. This is one of them.)
Greetings, Lion fans, and I wish I could say that I’m happy to be reaching out to all of you again about the latest happenings. Now is not one of those times.
Former Lion great Wade Wilson passed away on Friday, his 60th birthday. It was sudden and unexpected. Arguably(and in opinion, he is)the greatest quarterback in ETSU/Texas A&M-Commerce history, he went on to have an outstanding 18 year career in the National Football League with the Vikings, Saints, Cowboys, and Raiders. He guided the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in 1987, and along the way, out dueled the legendary Joe Montana in a huge upset in San Francisco. He was named All Pro in 1988, and it was his play that led the Vikings to make the Herschel Walker trade with Dallas the rebuilt the Cowboys’ dynasty of the early to mid 90’s. He finally got his Super Bowl ring in 1996 as Troy Aikman’s backup in Dallas. I remember being so excited and happy, that not only did my favorite team win, but my friend did as well.
After his playing days, Wade became a very valuable NFL assistant coach, working with quarterbacks, of course. Two of his most notable stops were in Chicago, where he developed an otherwise ordinary Rex Grossman into a talent that led the Bears to a Super Bowl. He finally came home to work with his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, and was instrumental in making Tony Romo a top flight NFL quarterback, and later, was the key to developing Dak Prescott. There are some, and I’m one of them, that believe that Prescott hasn’t been the same since Wade was released by the Cowboys.
As outstanding of a player and coach as he was, he was a better person, husband, father, and friend. If you were in Commerce from 1977-1980, you knew who he was. It was plain to see Wade was destined for greatness. He was a superstar. Anyone that was around him knew it. He knew it. Sometimes, that can lead to an attitude problem. Not with Wade. He was a humble and down to earth as can be. On Friday walk through before a game, he would stay out and throw passes to defensive linemen running routes against defensive backs. I can still hear Jimmy Buster and Curtis Ray, among others, peppering the backs with some good-natured trash talk, and all the time, Wade just kept throwing. When he wasn’t laughing his head off.
In the fall of 1979, my Dad and stepbrother had come over to Commerce to see a game, and what a game it was. A hard-fought win against Texas A&I that I’ve written about before. My Dad and stepbrother got to witness a very hearty When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, and I had the chance to introduce my stepbrother to several teammates, and one of the first people I went up to was Wade. He was beat up, and very tired after a really tough game, but he still took the time to chat with him.
In April of 1981, during the NFL Draft, everyone around campus was very excited to see where Wade would be drafted. Not him. For him, it was just another day, just hanging out with rest of us.
That would be the last time I saw him. I left that spring, never to return. I did follow his NFL career closely, though, enjoying the highs, and enduring the lows. It was a neat feeling to be able to tell my family, “Hey, I know that guy. He’s my friend.”, whenever we would see him on the sidelines with Dallas. I did manage to leave messages with a mutual friend, Judy Barnes, hoping to see him again, but it wasn’t to be.
Despite all the successes, and all the travels and coaching stops, Wade Wilson was still a Commerce boy. And an East Texas State Lion. He was ours. He belonged to us.
He was our teammate. Our classmate. Our friend.
He was Everybody’s All American.