Lost amidst the hoopla of the Ben Roethlisberger lawsuit was some genuinely great news for one of the finest Pittsburgh Steelers of all time.
Rod Woodson, a ten year starter at cornerback for the Steelers, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Woodson is the career leader in interceptions returned for touchdown. He also holds the record for most career interception return yardage. Deion who? Woodson was the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of The Year for yet another Steeler defense ranked 1st overall in the league, an 11 time Pro Bowler, and was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team back in 1994 while he was still playing. Rod was the Steelers 1987 1st round draft pick (10th overall) out of Purdue. He played fantastic cornerback while here and distinguished himself as a dynamic return man. Also, Woodson’s All-Star Grill down at Station Square had some of the best hamburgers you’ve ever tasted.
Perhaps Woodson’s greatest moment as a Steeler occurred in 1995. Ironically, that was also the beginning of the end of his career in the Black and Gold. Week one against the Detroit Lions, Woodson squared to tackle RB Barry Sanders. Sanders juked him out of his jock (which he did to pretty much everybody) and when Rod planted his foot to change direction, it got caught in the artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium. He tore his ACL to hell and needed immediate reconstructive surgery. The Steelers rallied, managing to make it all the way to Super Bowl XXX that season. Miraculously, Woodson managed to rehab his knee sufficiently to play nickelback in the soul-crushing loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, he tore his ACL and come back to play in the same season.
Woodson’s speed was unbelievable as he’d routinely let wide receivers go past him to play the run or fool the quarterback into thinking his man was open and then he’d come out of nowhere to close on the receiver when he saw where the ball was going. Unfortunately, players seldom heal completely from an ACL tear so when he tried doing this the next year, he didn’t have that same freaky closing speed and would get beat on bombs. The Steelers wanted to move him to safety but he allegedly refused, resulting in a not so pleasant divorce. Sadly, we had to watch as one of our greatest players and probably the best pure athlete to ever don the Black and Gold leave for the 49ers, Ravens (where he helped them win a Super Bowl. You’re welcome, Ratbirds), and finally the Raiders.
Regardless of where his career ended or the bad feelings he may have had over how his departure from Pittsburgh was handled, Rod has always stated he remains a Steeler at heart. He’s made peace with the Rooneys and talked openly of the admiration he has for both them and his original team. In fact, he said in several interviews that if a player had to pick one team jersey/helmet to wear on their Hall of Fame bust, he’d pick the Steelers.
Congratulations, Rod. Your #26 jersey still hangs proudly in my closet. And now your name hangs proudly among the greatest players to ever play the game. Steeler Nation thanks you for the memories.