Night is closing in at Duff’s Famous Wings, where Christian Wade has just been rumbled.
A well-oiled punter spotted the Buffalo Bill hiding in plain sight, now Wade is posing for pictures. One fan offers him a shot, he politely declines. ‘I paid them for that,’ he jokes.
Wade is giving The Mail on Sunday a flavour of local delicacies at the end of a whistle-stop tour of his new life. And the old.
More than three years have passed since he quit rugby to try American football. Arguably this country’s dynamite winger over half a decade, Wade’s electricity was nevertheless ignored by England.
Christian Wade said he has no regrets about leaving a rugby career to pursue life in the NFL
Chances have evaded him in this second chapter, too. Wade still awaits his competitive NFL debut. And yet? ‘It’s been an absolute success,’ he says. ‘No one has been able to do what I’ve done. People don’t know this but I wanted to retire from sport, or have the option to retire, at the age of 30.’
Now nearing his 31st birthday, Wade has no plans to slow down but a decision over his next sidestep looms. The Bills, where the running back has spent this adventure, must choose whether to keep him.
‘I’ve had offers all the time since I’ve been over here,’ says Wade. ‘But rugby is not really on the cards for me.’
The 30-year-old has yet to make his competitive debut despite leaving the Wasps in 2018
Wade left Wasps in 2018 for the ‘cocoon’ of the NFL’s International Player Pathway.
‘This year, in my head, I was like: “I’m going to go so hard and just kill pre-season so that either the Bills put me on the team and, if they don’t, then I’m going to get picked up somewhere else. Then I get hurt three days before the first game,’ he says.
He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after falling under a team-mate in practice. He tried to play on after everything was clicked back into place. ‘I went to move my arm,’ he says. ‘It just started shaking… “I was like: “Oh s***”!’
The lay-off means Wade is still yet to play a match since 2019 pre-season. Surprising, perhaps, given his first touch in American football ended in a 65-yard touchdown.
‘This just feels like rugby,’ Wade thought as he raced clear. ‘But then when I got to the end zone, I didn’t know what to do!’ Scoring is in Wade’s DNA. But the roots of his nine-second jink-and-sprint stretched back seven months, to lonely sessions before arriving in Buffalo.
‘That moment was more of a stamp of approval for myself,’ he says. Because during his career change, doubts inevitably emerged. ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I going to be good?’
He is part of the Buffalo Bills team but a decision will soon be made over whether to keep him
With one score, the ‘pain, tears, sweat, blood’ all felt worthwhile. ‘Everything you’ve done is not in vein,’ he says.
His second appearance brought another 47-yard break. Since that pre-season, however, Wade has shuttled only between the Bills’ treatment table and practice squad. Lots of time spent in team meetings; training days can be 13 hours long. But only a team’s 53-man roster put that work into practice. Many will wonder, is this life in the shadows another waste of Wade’s talent?
‘How can you tell me it’s a failure if you’ve never done it?’ he says. ‘People back home won’t ever understand. They’ll say: “Oh, he didn’t play any games”. But you have to understand how it really works. If you get into the NFL and you’re on a team, that is the success.
‘[That] is testament to how elite I am. Once you’re here, it’s just a waiting game… it doesn’t bother me any more if the opportunity doesn’t come. I’m not getting all frustrated.’
He learnt that lesson in a previous life. ‘When I was younger, not playing for England and stuff like that, I was beating myself up,’ he says.
That angst dated back to 2009, when his country was awarded the 2015 Rugby World Cup and a teenage Wade was told: “This is going to be you guys one day”.
‘That’s all I had in my head,’ he says. ‘Then I didn’t get selected.’
He is positive though, saying it ‘doesn’t bother me any more if the opportunity doesn’t come’
In May 2015, Wade and other England hopefuls faced the Barbarians. ‘I scored three tries and no one spoke to me after the game,’ he says. ‘I went out, had a good time and just washed my hands of England.’ He decided: ‘I don’t need to fight any more. And then from 2015 onwards, my game just took off.
‘That was a turning point in my life. I’m not one of the top six wingers in the country? Now I know you’re tripping.’ He laughs at the memory.
But Wade’s exile was mourned by many and seen as evidence of England’s obsession with size over skill. How could such a potent force, even one standing 5ft 8in, be worth only one cap? ‘I was never bitter. It was just a switch in my head: the reason why I’m doing this, up until 2015, was to play for England, to please England, everything was England, England, England.’ Then he decided: ‘I’m playing for me.’
It is not an unfamiliar tale for players who challenge this country’s preconceptions. ‘If you do anything outside [their framework] it’s a wrap,’ he says. ‘I’ve always been outside the system. I’m an unorthodox player. I do it how I do it and, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.’
And yet, even after he turned his back, rugby would not let him go. ‘I left rugby, then I had more requests,’ he says. From where? ‘Everywhere. I know I can go and do that if I want to but I haven’t thought about rugby since I’ve been over here.’
So Eddie Jones has not been in touch? ‘Nah. I don’t speak to those guys,’ he says. ‘Eddie used to call me. He just says stuff that doesn’t make sense.’
Wade remains the most high-profile export. A busy one, too, after he set up his music project, Next Gen Collective, for untapped local talent.
‘I’d love to stay at the Bills,’ says Wade. ‘I guess it’s a bit like your first girlfriend, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart for Buffalo.’
So wherever Wade jinks next, this chapter will linger. He says: ‘I’ve still got bruises that will never go away.’