But the England fly-half will return to the international stage for the first time since the World Cup final on Monday after being named as vice-captain for the Lions' Zurich Test against Argentina.
Wilkinson's selection marks the end of a tortuous period since his drop goal earned England their glory in Sydney, time in which he twice had to overcome knee ligament damage as well as a potentially career-ending neck injury and a bicep problem.
It was after injuring his left knee once again during Newcastle's game against Harlequins on March 13 that Wilkinson felt his dream of pulling on the red shirt this summer was fading.
"There was a time, with my second knee injury when I was waiting for the scan, that the Lions seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel - but not a very bright one," he said.
But the damage was not as bad as it might have been and when Lions head coach Sir Clive Woodward challenged him to break into the squad, Wilkinson was determined there would only be one outcome.
Wilkinson proved his form and fitness with an exemplary display in Newcastle's wildcard defeat to Gloucester. He was immediately added to the Lions squad and is now vice-captain for the first game of the 2005 adventure.
"I enjoyed the situation I was put in by Clive and I think he knew that as well," said Wilkinson.
"It was up to me to play well. I'd rather be backed into a corner than be given something on a plate because of something I did a few years ago.
"I'd rather be fighting for something than be presuming something, living off past reputation.
"I believe things in rugby and in life don't come for free. You earn your success and you earn your right to play."