FOXBORO, Mass. — After spending last season out of the NFL, Marc Wilson was playing catch with a friend.
"Marc, you're crazy not to play this game," the friend told the former Raider quarterback. "You've got five or six more years left. You're too young to quit."
A spark was rekindled in Wilson, who said: "I started thinking that maybe he was right."
Wilson, 32, signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots last April and has become the backup to Steve Grogan.
"I think he's shown that he still has the tools to play in this business," Grogan said. "He's still got one of the rocket arms in the league and he can put it downfield with the best of them."
Wilson stands on the sideline during games, clipboard in hand, awaiting his chance to replace Grogan.
But there haven't been many chances.
After Grogan was injured against the New York Jets three weeks ago, Wilson made his only appearance of the season, throwing for 177 yards and two touchdowns to rally the Patriots before they eventually lost, 27-26.
Did Wilson's talent deteriorate during the 23 months he was out?
"I don't know what he had before, but he's got a heck of a lot right now," said Doug Flutie, New England's No. 3 quarterback. "He's a top-quality quarterback."
Wilson is simply happy to be back in the NFL after being released by the Raiders last year. He signed with the Green Bay Packers but was cut during camp.
What happened at Green Bay?
"I signed a few days before training camp. I went (there) trying to learn the offense and it was radically different than anything I had ever done before," Wilson said. "It just didn't come together, and they released me. I have no bitter feelings about it."
He spent last season working for a real estate developer in Seattle, where he became reacquainted with his wife and four children.
Did Wilson miss the NFL?
"I only watched a couple of games all year long," he said. "When I watched the games I found myself bored to death, so I ended up not watching. It sounds weird and everyone is really surprised when I say that, but I didn't find myself going through any sort of withdrawal (from football). In fact, it was kind of an enjoyable time to spend with my family."
The Patriots signed Wilson as additional insurance for Grogan, who had neck surgery last January. They kept four quarterbacks--Tony Eason, Flutie, Grogan and Wilson.
Eason started the first three games but lost his job to Flutie, who was replaced by Grogan. Wilson moved up to No. 2 after Eason was waived.
Except for the game against the Jets, Wilson's activity has been confined to holding the ball on field goal attempts.
Against the Raiders Sunday at the Coliseum, "Wilson will play if Steve gets hurt," Patriot Coach Raymond Berry said.
His financial future assured after he made $4 million in his last five years with the Raiders, Wilson could sit back and watch his money earn interest. Why play football?
"Frankly, because I'm good at it, and there's no reason not to," he said. "I guess I'm not convinced that I can't play. So, before I decide to say I'm through with football, I wanted to give it one more try."
The Oakland Raiders didn't hesitate when it came time to select in the 1980 NFL draft, taking Wilson 15th overall. Wilson was the first quarterback ever selected No. 1 by the Raiders.
"We thought Marc was our future," said Tom Flores, former Raider coach. "He had everything you want in a quarterback."
After signing Wilson to a four-year, $2-million contract, Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, announced that Wilson was a future Pro Bowl quarterback.
His credentials were impeccable: A consensus All-American at Brigham Young, Wilson set 11 NCAA passing records. As a senior in 1979, he led the nation in total offense with 3,580 yards and in touchdown passes with 29.
Wilson was very unsure of himself when he first arrived at BYU, where he was the backup to Gifford Nielsen.
And it seemed Wilson would remain on the bench after Nielsen threw 15 touchdown passes in his first four games of 1977. Nielsen, however, suffered a knee injury against Oregon State.
He started by passing for 521 yards and seven touchdowns as BYU upset Colorado State.
"It was amazing," said former Raider Todd Christensen, who played with Wilson at BYU. "He went from nowhere to the next Heisman winner in one weekend."
Wilson had good ability, a strong arm and a nice touch on his passes. But he seemed vulnerable to a strong pass rush.
With his long neck and protruding Adam's apple, he didn't fit the image of a classic quarterback.
Wilson was also introverted, with few close friends among the Raiders.
"We lived next door to each other when we first got down to Los Angeles," Christensen said."But I don't think we ever rode in together because I couldn't fit in his Porsche.
"With all the variables, like attending BYU together and both being from the same religion, it would have indicated we would be tight, but we weren't that close. He was in a different tax bracket."