Al Wilson has been back in Colorado for a few days promoting a new venture that is bringing the former middle linebacker back to football for the first time since retiring from the NFL in 2006.
And he’s thrilled to be back around the game he loves.
"I had gotten away from the game. The way my career ended left a sour taste, so I left football and went into business," Wilson told Mile High Report this week.
But now a new venture with the Colorado Crush indoor football club based in Loveland is getting No. 56 back into his favorite game.
A first-round draft pick by the Broncos in 1999, Wilson became an immediate contributor for the defending back-to-back Super Bowl champions who no longer had their superstar QB John Elway. Though the team went 6-10 Wilson’s first season, the linebacker was a big reason the team had success in the years following Elway’s grand exit.
Yet Wilson's career did not have a fairy tale ending like he would have hoped.
The Tennessee native suffered a scary neck injury during a fake field goal attempt on a Sunday night game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. Although Wilson was cleared to play the following week, one of the last memories Broncos fans have of Wilson is the horrifying image of him being strapped to a stretcher and taken to the hospital via ambulance.
The following season, the Broncos brought in high-priced free agents Travis Henry and Patrick Ramsey, leaving the franchise strapped for cash. Unfortunately for Wilson, this meant he had played his last snap as a Bronco. Denver attempted to trade Wilson to the New York Giants, but the trade fell through after a failed physical, and the Broncos cut their former leader on defense.
Less than a year later, Wilson retired from the league.
Unhappy with the way he was treated by the Broncos, Wilson’s relationship with the organization has never been the same. Earlier this year in an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, Wilson stated that he "still roots for the Broncos but does not give two s**** about the organization" - a clear sign Wilson's relationship with the Broncos was still quite bitter.
But Wilson is moving past that part of his life now.
In Colorado to spread the word about his new partnership with the Colorado Crush and Project FANchise, Wilson will be a liaison for a new interactive experience in which fans are given total control over an Indoor Football League franchise.
Through the FANchise mobile app, fans are able to vote on various aspects of the team, such as the name, team uniforms, head coaches, and even the plays being called during the game. How much fans will interact with the Crush this coming season is still being developed, but Wilson and his partners are excited about its potential.
Mostly, Wilson is excited to be back in football.
"It was a tough situation for me the way my career ended. I wish the organization could have done things differently, maybe I could have done some things differently so I'm not putting it all on the organization," Wilson told Mile High Reprot. "But at the end of the day it was my career and I am a little biased in the way I feel. I felt like I was at the top of my game and things just didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but I guess saying I don't give two s***s was a little strong because they did give me an opportunity of which I am very thankful for. I just wish things could have been handled a little different."
Wilson told that he has still not talked to anyone in the Broncos organization. No one has reached out to him, and he hasn’t reached out to them.
"They have more fish to fry right now," Wilson acknowledged. "They are not worried about me right now, they have their hands full with their season and what they have to do. I have moved forward in my life in what I'm doing and trying to press forward and continuing to do good things for good people. So maybe one day down the road we will be able to mend that relationship, but right now they are going in their direction and I am going in mine."
As the Broncos get set to induct three more greats into their Ring of Fame during Monday Night Football this week - including John Lynch, one of Wilson's teammates - it is time the Broncos reach out to their former star linebacker and end this bitterness.
The Broncos organization has a long record of welcoming back their alumni. Many former Bronco players say "once a Bronco, always a Bronco."
Wilson was a dominating force for this Broncos team for nearly a decade in the early 2000s. He was a fan favorite and to this day you can spot the old blue No. 56 jerseys in the stands at Mile High - often next to Lynch and Plummer jerseys.
Do the right thing, Broncos. Al will be spending more time in Colorado as his new team, the Crush, begins a revolutionary fan-first experience in the coming months. The time is now. Pick up the phone, call No. 56 and bring him back to Broncos Country.