In 2014, Richie Incognito, a former Pro Bowl guard, was out of football following a very public hazing incident with Jonathan Martin, a teammate of his on the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood was in his sixth NFL season and starting a new multi-year contract with the club. They were at seemingly opposite ends of the career ladder when then-general manager Doug Whaley asked Wood for his opinion on adding the controversial Incognito.
“Doug Whaley asked my thoughts on bringing him in that offseason and I told him to definitely do it if he could,” says Wood. “I had spent enough time around Richie to know that he would be a good fit for our line and he was a beast on the field.”
The pair shared an agent and had met in 2009 when Buffalo claimed Incognito off waivers to replace Wood at right guard a few weeks after he broke his leg. They didn’t spend a lot of time together then, being on different schedules, but they had played in a golf tournament and seen each other at events. Their friendship really started, though, with that conversation between Whaley and Wood.
“We were already acquaintances but we had a mutual respect for each other’s games to where we were excited to start working together,” says Wood. “When he came to the team, we hung out a whole lot in and out of the facility and grew really close through those times.”
Incognito reached out immediately to the only member of the Bills’ offensive line who was still there from his first stint with the team.
“When I found out I was gonna go for the interview with the Pegulas [owners of the Buffalo Bills], EWood was one of the first people I told,” said Incognito in 2018. “He’s been instrumental in me coming back in the league and reestablishing myself.”
As a locker room leader, Wood took it upon himself to assimilate Incognito into the Bills’ locker room. After the incident in Miami, there was trepidation both from the team and Incognito on how it would all come together.
“He could have gone one of two ways. He could have stayed in the dumps, stayed in that really low time in his life, and kept up the self-destruction. Or you can go the exact opposite way, which is what he did,” said Wood in a 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated. “From the moment he came in, he was a locker room favorite.”
That friendship helped Incognito in his quick assimilation into the locker room. Incognito credits Wood in an interview between the two on the debut episode of What’s Next With Eric Wood back in March of 2019.
“I confided in you a lot,” said Incognito. “You made my transition from Miami that much easier. You allowed me to be myself and not be in a shell.”
The balance was there, the pair say, because Wood provided the leadership and Incognito provided the juice that took the offensive line to the next level. Wood would provide the positivity when Incognito would get negative. That leadership also meant keeping an eye on his buddy.
‘If you were ever trying to take it somewhere, I’d remind you of New Richie,” Wood told Incognito, who says the reminding nickname spread to other members of the team.
The duo quickly earned the “Bash Brothers” moniker from fans for outstanding play on the field, and they both made the Pro Bowl following Incognito’s first season with the Bills. Buffalo topped the league in rushing in the duo’s first two seasons together.
“On the field it was incredible to play with a guard like Richie,” says Wood. “He came in with a lot of experience and also was the strongest and most explosive o-lineman I ever played with. Dude is an absolute beast.”
Not just next to each other in the locker room and on the field, the pair were “virtually inseparable” upon Incognito’s return to Buffalo. They complemented each other away from the facility, too, with Wood as the leader and Incognito as the hype man.
“Off the field, he lived right behind me in our neighborhood and we spent a lot of time together,” says Wood. “He was known as Uncle Richie in our house and even our families became close. We still stay in contact today even though he’s on the other side of the country. He’ll be a friend for life.”
As evidence of this closeness, an oft-discussed competition became an annual tradition in Buffalo. Wood and his wife would host the Thanksgiving gatherings each year for the offensive line. With players far from home, it’s typical to celebrate the holiday as teammates. In the offensive line room, “celebrate” took on a much different idea.
Not content simply enjoying the meal and each other’s company, the offensive line gathered at Wood’s home and would weigh themselves upon arrival and again following the feast(s). The person who gained the most weight would win the Turkey Day competition.
In 2015, it was Incognito that took the prize by gaining 15 pounds in one sitting. In 2016, Incognito again won (though he had to chug water to gain the necessary weight, drawing ire). In 2017, Wood emerged victorious by mere tenths of a pound over Incognito and fellow lineman Ryan Groy. Never one to avoid smack talk, Incognito weighed in with the media (in addition to weighing in on the scale) on his methodology.
“Winning is winning,” Incognito said of his controversial tactics in 2016. “It’s a straight weight contest. There were no rules. They said come, weigh in, gain as much weight as you can. I won, and everybody was sore because I beat their asses. Wood’s just upset because I went into his house and dominated him at his own game.”
Wood is quick to point out that in one sitting, he can out-eat Incognito (who agrees) but over the course of a day, Incognito has the staying power to come out on top.
The good-natured ribbing exposes just how close they were off the field. If there was any doubt what his true feelings were, Incognito certainly didn’t hide them on the day it was announced Wood had to retire from the NFL due to a neck injury. Incognito, speaking from the Pro Bowl, effused praise for his friend.
“Huge loss today for the Bills’ organization,” said Incognito in January of 2018. “Eric is a special guy. He’s been in Buffalo his entire career. He’s been a great friend to me, a great teammate, a great leader. A guy that I really leaned on a lot when I first got back in the league. It’s really a sad day.”
Wood now calls games for the ACC Network and Buffalo Bills’ radio network in addition to hosting his successful podcast and other business ventures. In what is likely not a coincidence, Incognito left the Bills by retiring a couple months after Wood. He returned to the NFL in 2019 with the Oakland Raiders.
“I have so much respect for you. I love you brother,” said Incognito in a second podcast appearance with Wood earlier this year. “You force me to be a better man.”
Wood reciprocated the compliments, both on and off the field.
Complementing each other on the field and complimenting each other off the field. Teammates in every sense.