This year's Pro Bowl could be Eric Weddle's swan song, as he said he will retire this offseason if the Ravens don't want to bring him back next year. (Update: he's since budged on that stance.)
If so, it's kind of ironic that Weddle, 34, met the inspiration for him playing football at all yesterday while in Orlando.
Weddle ran into the NFL's all-time rushing leader and Hall of Famer, former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, and posted a photo of it on Twitter.
Smith was in the AFC's introductory meeting and sitting right in front of Weddle. He spoke to the team, then jetted out of the room, and Weddle was kicking himself for not saying something. But later that night, Smith happened to come by the bar where a bunch of players were hanging out.
"I just went up to him and told him he was the reason I started playing football – how he played, on and off the field what he stood for, why I wore No. 22," Weddle said. "Being a running back, I wanted to be like Emmitt Smith. For him to acknowledge that and know who I was, it was special, man."
Sure enough, here's photo proof of Weddle wearing Smith's No. 22 at Alta Loma High School, not too far outside of Los Angeles.
According to his Utah college bio, Weddle had 587 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in his senior year of high school. Oh, and he also had 965 yards passing, five touchdown passes, 129 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
Weddle switched to No. 32 in college (not sure why) and continued to wear that number in the pros, where he put up a lot more stats.
Weddle is about to play in his sixth Pro Bowl, and now he's the veteran that young guys (and kids in the stands) look up to. Weddle said New York Jets safety Jamal Adams and Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James have both been telling him how they grew up watching him and respect his game so much.
"It just brings everything into perspective," Weddle said. "You cherish the game and cherish those relationships. It's very humbling."