Al Wilson, aka the real "Big Al", was to the Broncos defense what Peyton Manning is to the Broncos offense. He was the unquestioned leader on a team that had guys like John Lynch and Champ Bailey. He made sure everyone was in perfect position on every play and that everyone played each snap as hard as they could. A quick rundown to show how dominant Big Al made the Broncos can be had in these stats:
In 1999, the year he was drafted, he started 12 games. The Broncos were 19th in the league against the run.
in 2000-2005, they were 7th, 6th,4th,7th,6th, and 2nd in the entire NFL. In 2006 when Big Al got injured and eventually left the field forever, the Broncos finished 12th. The very next year, as in, the first year that Big Al wasn't roaming the field at all, the Broncos finished 30th, 30th!!!!! in the NFL. The next year? 27th. The year after that? 26th. My point is that Big Al was an absolute STUD who made everyone around him better.
Big Al was fast. Big Al was strong. Big Al was ferocious, and Big Al was a flat out competitor. Al Wilson started taking his entire defense out to dinner once a week and would pick up the tab each time. Money didn't motivate him. No, instead, competing on the gridiron and being around his teammates was what motivated him. Al loved his team, he loved his fans, and he loved the select few he got to call brothers.
Speaking of being ferocious, who can forget his hit on Tyrone Wheatley? (45 second mark)
What more can be said about the ultimate competitor who played the ultimate team sport at a level that earned him Pro-Bowl spots year in and year out? Number 56 casts a shadow as large as #7, #30, and #84. Each time I see Either Robert Ayers, or now Nate Irving trot onto the field, I think "He's no Big Al." When I see a #7, I think of Elway. When I see a #30, I think of Terrell Davis. When I see a #84, I think about Shannon Sharpe, and finally, when I see a #56, I think about Al Wilson, the "real" Big Al.
What is the biggest travesty of Big Al's career? It wasn't the neck injury that forced him into early retirement. It wasn't Mike Shanahan trying to quickly trade him to the Giants before he was fully healed. It wasn't even the Broncos doctors clearing him to return to the field the week after he was carted off. No, the biggest travesty of Al Wilson's career is that he was drafted by us in 1999 and not 1998. If anyone on our Broncos team deserved to hold that Lombardi Trophy, it was Al Wilson. Rarely do you see athletes leave it all on the field, yet here we are, witness to one of the rare athletes who truly left every ounce of what they had on the field. Ray Lewis didn't. Ronnie Lott didn't. Big Al? Yes, yes he did!
Cool 56 Factoid:
Notable Broncos to wear #56:
Keith Burns (1994-1998)
Al Wilson (1999-2006)
*Robert Ayers (2009-2011)
Current Bronco wearing #56:
*Robert Ayers changed number when he moved to the DE position