As Brad Butler made his way through the building at One Bills Drive Friday to say his goodbyes, his now former teammates were still trying to process his stunning decision to retire from football at age 26.
"It came as a great shock to me," guard Eric Wood told Buffalobills.com. "Brad called me Thursday and we had a good conversation and when it was getting toward the end of the conversation I asked him how his leg was doing. He said that's what he was calling about and that he was retiring from the Bills."
Wood thought Butler was joking, but quickly realized his linemate's statement was no joke.
"As we went on he said he has more aspirations outside of football," said Wood. "Some of my friends that saw the news couldn't believe he was retiring from football, but even after they had met him a couple of times last season, they said, 'That guy is so smart he's going to be great at something other than football.'
"Everybody was surprised, but everyone kind of understands that Brad has a lot of aspirations in life and maybe he felt if he stuck around football for a while longer he wouldn't be able to attain the things he wants to attain outside of football."
Butler's fellow tackle Demetrius Bell could have been knocked over by a feather with the news, which he first received from former teammate Langston Walker.
"I was kind of shocked, but at the same time knowing Brad you can't really be surprised," Bell told Buffalobills.com. "I know he had other interests besides football. I'm not saying he put those ahead of football, but his interest in other pursuits was so great I guess he felt he could not devote the time necessary to be successful in football at the same time."
For Wood the news arguably affects him more than any other player. He was hopeful that both he and Butler would be able to return to action on the right side of Buffalo's offensive line in 2010 and finish what they started the season before.
"I was really looking forward to playing with Brad again," said Wood. "He taught me a lot in the year we had together and the few games we had on the field. I sat next to him in meetings last year in OTAs and through preseason and throughout the season. Brad was always giving me pointers. Even after he got injured he stayed in the meetings and was a really positive influence on my football playing last year."
Wood doesn't know for sure, but believes being on the shelf injured last season with a torn ACL may have given Butler the extra time he needed away from the game to make a difficult decision like the one he made Thursday.
"He's been banged up a few times," said Wood in reference to Butler's shoulder and knee surgeries. "Rehab is not fun. I've never been hurt before this past season and this is the first time I'm rehabbing and it's not fun. People always talk about how much money NFL players make and maybe Brad saw past money in his decision. Maybe he didn't want to rehab anymore or maybe he just had a higher aspiration besides football. I felt it was a decision he would have come to regardless."
Wood has been in contact with some of his fellow linemates since Butler's decision to retire and admits it won't be easy when they show up for offseason workouts and their former teammate is not there.
"We were all surprised. It's a tough deal," Wood said. "I can only respect his decision to pursue education, community and country. He's always been really big into politics. He's really dedicated himself off the field. We'll stay friends and that was one of the things he wanted to make sure of with me and some of the other guys. Yes, he's retired, but he still wants to be part of the group. We'll just have to move on without him."