Hot Rod

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.

  • As a youngster, the only reason he started playing organized football was because his brothers pushed him into the Police Athletic League program. He liked football, but didn't love it until much later. Coach Dave Rody positioned Woodson as a defensive back because, "He had great ability to see what was going on. He was our golden parachute — If you can get past everything, you're not going to get past the kid with the wheels at the end."
  • As a high school sophomore, Woodson quit the junior varsity football squad for several games only to be talked into going back out by track coach Jim Gurnell. Woodson didn't care for coaches yelling at him all the time.
"I believed that (if) you're not my parents, I don't need you yelling and screaming at me. If you want me to do something, just tell me. That's the kind of attitude I had."
  • As a junior, Woodson only played tailback after senior John Ramsey went down with a knee injury during the state playoffs. Woodson had been a slot back, but Ramsey was a Division I-caliber running back. Woodson soon proved he was, too.
Woodson finished with 576 yards on 100 carries. During his senior year, he carried 77 times for 758 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"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.

  • Woodson chose Purdue over Michigan and several other football factories because he thought he wanted to become an electrical engineer. After realizing he couldn't study engineering and play football, Woodson finished with a criminal justice degree.
He also finished as one of Purdue's all-time greats.

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.

  • After his senior season at Purdue, Woodson went to California in 1987 to study how to run the hurdles and then to Europe to compete in track during the NFL players' strike. Though he was the Big Ten indoors champion and an All-American, he had never worked much on his technique at a high level. If the strike hadn't ended . . .
"Maybe in retrospect, if I had to do it over again I probably would have stayed out and run track for the year," he said. "I was enjoying it that much. As (an) amateur in track, I could not have professional status in one sport and get my amateur status in another at that time. You can now. I wish we could have then, because I'd have done both."

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."

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