NORTHEAST INDIANA'S NO. 1 ATHLETE OF THE CENTURY
A member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, Rod Woodson began his long journey to pro football greatness at Snider High School.
By BLAKE SEBRING of The News-Sentinel
There have been many points when Rod Woodson's athletic future could have been altered.
"We didn't know he was going to be an NFL player, but we knew pretty quickly he was going to be a Division-I great one," Snider coach Mike Hawley said.
In perhaps the best individual performance in a Purdue game, on Nov. 22, 1986, Woodson was a one-man wrecking crew against Indiana University. From his normal position as a defensive back, he had 10 tackles, forced a fumble to set up a touchdown and broke up a pass. Playing for the first time in his college career on offense, Woodson ran 15 times for 93 yards and caught three passes for 67 yards.
Instead he came home, joined the NFL and will complete his 13th season Sunday, his second with the Baltimore Ravens. His career includes being named to the NFL's 75th anniversary team in 1994 and the NFL's 30th-best player of all time by Pro Football Weekly in January 1997. He has tied the NFL career record for interception returns for touchdown with nine and is tied with Willie Brown for 16th on the all-time interception list with 54.
Woodson had seven interceptions through 15 games this season with Baltimore and was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time. He made history, becoming the first Pro Bowler at cornerback, safety and kick returner.
As he looks back now at age 34, Woodson doesn't like to focus too long on what might have happened in his life. All he knows is that a lot of things went the right way.
"Everything happens for a reason, and I've been blessed," Woodson said. "There's no reason to second-guess it. God has blessed me with wonderful talent throughout my life, a wonderful family, a great foundation and great coaches. He gave me a beautiful wife and four beautiful kids. If I complain I need to be skinned alive, because I've had it all.
"There's nothing about it I wouldn't do over again. All the decisions I've made in my life, all the mistakes I've made, all the right decisions I've made, have been a part of my growth. You live and learn. It takes you awhile."
Woodson said it took him several years to accept that knowledge and peace, several years of always searching for more. Getting married and fathering his first child changed his perspective some. He sees this process as God's way of tapping him on the shoulder.
"At that point, God was ringing the phone, but I wasn't answering it then," Woodson said. "I was still doing my own thing, being Rod Woodson. A year ago I answered the phone, and I've been blessed. I'm still a baby in Christ. I've been on and off the path my whole life. It's better being on the path than off it."
In what ways?
"You definitely have to be more humble," he said. "I was a humble person anyway, I believe, but that made me more humble, less proud about things. I was always a laid-back, easygoing person. I've always been on an even keel. Being with Christ, I'm at peace with everything right now. Every decision I make now I know has a reason because he is leading me that way. I know in the future he'll put his hand on me and guide me in the right way. He'll take me into what he wants me to do."
Right now, Woodson believes, God wants him to keep playing football and return to Fort Wayne each summer to continue his football camp for area youth. He knows every kid on the Snider High School fields wants to follow him to the NFL. He does't discourage that hope, but he does try to temper it.
"The one statement I make is that wisdom is so much stronger than strength on any given day of life," Woodson said. "Even if you do play sports, especially in football, the great players understand the sport and the reason they understand it is they study the game."
Which is what he does so well now. This year the Ravens moved Woodson from cornerback to safety, but he spent most of his time working to teach the new cornerback. The only personal goal he has left is to get a championship ring. He knows time is running out, but it's not gone yet.
"I've never made a timetable," he said. "When I came into the league, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Donnie Shell and those guys were still playing and Chuck Noll was my coach. Donnie said, `I played for 12 years,' and I'm thinking `12 years,' I can't play for 12 years. Even after Year 5, I was thinking that's seven more years, and that won't happen. Now I'm eight years into it, and I still love it."