HERE'S ALL you need to know about Adrian Wilson the football player: While on a scheduled 17-day family vacation in the Caribbean two summers ago, he talked his wife, Alicia, into returning home after four days because he felt he wasn't doing something that could help him become a better strong safety. He had a self-described "paranoia" that someone else might be working harder, and he figured he had the rest of his life to go on vacation.
Here's all you need to know about Wilson the person: After being selected in the third round of the 2001 draft, he joined a Cardinals franchise that had had only one winning season in the previous 16 years. Arizona promptly lost nine games during his first year, 11 in his second and 12 in his third. But instead of looking for the nearest exit, Wilson signed a five-year extension in 2004 because he wanted to be a part of the nucleus that turned the Cardinals into winners.
His hard work and faith have been rewarded. "There were days you'd look on the other side of the fence and that grass would be real green," says Wilson, the longest-tenured Cardinal. "But on the flip side you have that pride and that character level [dictating] that you're going to follow through on what you set out to do."
When Wilson's eyes welled with tears after the 32--25 win over the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, people saw a side of him that's rarely displayed. The former North Carolina State star usually keeps the curtains drawn on his emotions. He walks around with a stone face and averts eye contact when outsiders approach. He is a man of few words and fewer smiles, making him appear as intimidating in public as he is menacing on the field.
Wilson's size (6'3", 230 pounds) and athleticism are accompanied by a hit man's mentality. (He was fined $25,000 by the league earlier this year after he drove Bills quarterback Trent Edwards into the ground, though Wilson was not penalized on the play.) The combination means that offensive coordinators must account for him. The Eagles failed to do so, and he burned them for two sacks and a forced fumble. "He's the assassin," Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett says of Wilson. "He'll knock your damn head off. He's definitely a threat sitting back there or coming on the blitz. You've got a guy who's built like that and fast like that—he brings a presence to this game."
Now he's bringing it to the biggest game of all. "This is huge for him," Dockett says. "At one point in his career he probably thought he'd never get to the Super Bowl. But he did it. He's here. He deserves it."