Rod Woodson

August 22, 2011
Pittsburgh Pirates
by David Watson

Early years

Woodson is the youngest of three siblings, with whom he had close relationships. His father, the late James Woodson, was African-American, and his mother, Linda Jo, is white; they were married providing a stable home for Joe, Jamie and Rod . Woodson attended R. Nelson Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He played defensive back and a variety of offensive skill positions and was all-state his junior and senior seasons. in addition to football, he won both the high and low hurdles state championships in both his junior and senior seasons; and played varsity basketball his junior and senior seasons, making all conference his senior year.

College career

Woodson accepted a full scholarship to play football at Purdue University, in part because of a desire to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Woodson played primarily as a defensive back and kick returner, but also saw time on offense as a running back and wide receiver. He was named an All-American defensive back in 1985 and 1986, and was a three time All-Big Ten first team selection. In his final collegiate game, Woodson gained over 150 of combined rushing and receiving yards, in addition to making ten tackles and forcing a fumble, leading Purdue to a victory over arch-rival Indiana.

Woodson left Purdue with 13 individual records, notably tying the school record with eleven career interceptions. He currently is ranked in the top ten in career interceptions, solo tackles, total tackles, passes deflected, and kickoff return yardage as a Boilermaker.

In addition to his exploits on the gridiron, Woodson was also an accomplished track and field athlete at Purdue, and twice awarded All-America honors. He currently holds the school records in both the 60 and 110 meter hurdles, events in which he earned five Big Ten championships. In 1984, he qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 meter hurdles, but elected to continue his football career in the NFL after graduating from Purdue with a degree in criminal justice.

Woodson was inducted into the Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.

Pro football career

In 1987, Woodson was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 10th overall draft pick. He returned punts and played defensive cornerback for Pittsburgh through the 1996 season.On November 22, 1987 he was listed third on the depth chart in a game against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals played at Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium, Woodson was inserted into the secondary. In the final minute of the second quarter, he recorded his first career interception when he picked off a Boomer Esiason pass.

He was a fan favorite and a banner that hung for years in Three Rivers Stadium stated: “Rod Is God”. A highlight came in 1995 when Woodson became the first player to return from reconstructive knee surgery in the same season. That year he tore his ACL against the Detroit Lions in the first game and returned to play in the Super Bowl XXX between the Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys just 19 weeks later. In that game, he broke up a pass intended for Michael Irvin, hopped up and pointed at his reconstructed knee. In a game against the Houston Oilers, Woodson hit Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon on a cornerback blitz. The hit gave Moon a concussion and forced him to leave the game.

Woodson’s career took a somewhat nomadic turn after free agency from Pittsburgh, after the Rooney family elected not to renew his contract over a pay dispute as well as the salary cap. (The team had a similar dispute with Franco Harris in 1984 and later with Alan Faneca in 2008.) Although he remained to raise his family in Pittsburgh and later made amends with the Rooneys, he hopped between three additional franchises, becoming one of the few modern cornerbacks to successfully make a transition to the safety position, following in the footsteps of Ronnie Lott. Woodson signed with the San Francisco 49ers for the 1997 season, the Baltimore Ravens for the years 1998 to 2001 (where he won Super Bowl XXXV), and the Oakland Raiders for 2002 and 2003 (where he appeared in his third Super Bowl). In the Raiders 2002 Super Bowl season, 37-year old Woodson led the NFL in interceptions (8) for the first time in his career. His last interception came on November 16, 2003 against the Minnesota Vikings Daunte Culpepper.

NFL records and accomplishments

Woodson is among the NFL’s all time leaders in games played as a defensive back and interceptions. In his 17 NFL seasons, Woodson recorded 71 interceptions, 1,483 interception return yards, 32 fumble recoveries (15 offensive and 17 defensive), 137 fumble return yards, 4,894 kickoff return yards, 2,362 punt return yards, and 17 touchdowns (12 interception returns, 1 fumble return, 2 kickoff returns, 2 punt returns). He holds the league record for interceptions returned for touchdowns with 12, and is tied with 11 other players for the record for most fumble recoveries in a single game (3). His 1,483 interception return yards are also an NFL record. His 32 fumble recoveries are a record amongst defensive players. His 71 interceptions rank 3rd all time.

Woodson was named to the Pro Bowl eleven times, a record for a defensive back. He was also the first player to earn trips to the Pro Bowl at cornerback, safety and kick returner. He was named 1993’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press. He was also a 7 time All-Pro selection. Woodson finished second to Darrell Green in the 1988 NFL Fastest Man Contest.

In 1994, he was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. What made it notable was that Woodson was one of only five active players to be named to the team. The others were Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Reggie White and Ronnie Lott. In 1999, he was ranked number 87 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. The College Football News has also honored him as one of the 100 greatest players of the 20th century.

In 2007, he was ranked number 22 on USA Today list of the 25 best NFL players of the past 25 years.

It is unlikely that the Steelers will remove Woodson’s number 26 from circulation, however, since the number is currently being worn by longtime cornerback Deshea Townsend, who as of the 2008 season has now played longer with the Steelers than Woodson did. (The team drafted Townsend in 1998 around the same time that Woodson signed with the archrival Ravens, and still had an acrimonious relationship with the Rooneys at the time.) Mel Blount’s number 47 has also conspicuously remained in circulation since his retirement after the 1983 season.

On January 31, 2009, Woodson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility becoming the 18th Steelers-related person to be enshrined. Woodson named his good friend and business associate Tracy Foster as his presenter. Foster went to Indiana to play basketball for Bob Knight. Foster runs Woodson car dealership in Pittsburgh.


Woodson was released by the Oakland Raiders on July 27, 2004 after failing his team physical. His replacement at free safety for the Raiders was Stuart Schweigert, who coincidentally, broke Woodson’s career interception record at Purdue.

He now helps coach the defense at Valley Christian Senior High in Dublin, California along with former Raider John Parrella. Woodson lives in Pleasanton, California with his wife Nickie and their five children . His son, Demitrius, plays safety and wide receiver there as well as kick returner.

Since 1994, Woodson has operated an annual youth football camp, the Woodson/Fabini Football Camp, on the grounds of his former high school. He is also a partner in Woodson Motorsports, a BMW motorcycle dealership and repair shop in Fort Wayne.

Currently Woodson splits his time between NFL Network studios in Los Angeles, his home in Pleasanton,and his cottage in Coldwater, Michigan. He was also part of the studio team for BBC Sport’s NFL coverage in 2007, including Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLIII.

Rod Woodson sponsored a charity benefit dinner and auction on July 25, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum – just two weeks before he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All proceeds went to the Football and Scholarship programs at Valley Christian School, the high school where Rod coaches.


^ Hayes, Reggie (2009-08-03). “Tracing Woodson’s path to greatness”. Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 

^ “Former Boilermaker Rod Woodson Elected To Pro Football Hall Of Fame”. Purdue University. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 

^ Jeanguenat, John (2003-04-29). “Halls of fame induct, honor alumnus”. The Exponent. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 

^ I’ll take that!

^ FOOTBALL; Moon Passes Tests After Concussion The New York Times- Published: Wednesday, November 4, 1992

^ a b “Woodson set new standard in backfield”. USA Today. 2007-06-21. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 

^ Attner, Paul (1993-11-29). “The Intimidator”. The Sporting News. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 

^ Hall of Fame: Woodson greatness went beyond stats

^ The Class of 2009 presenters

^ “BBC announce studio team”. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 

^ “Rod Woodson HoF Benefit Dinner & Auction”.


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