Purdue ICONS #7: Rod Woodson

You guys are awesome. Yesterday there were over 500 comments on the Women's World Cup Soccer Final. Only the Open Thread Champs could deliver that type of devotion in the middle of the summer. Of course, it helps that it is bloody hot out and everyone is in the air conditioning. Numbers like that will help the cause greatly tomorrow, as I have a meeting with the athletic department to clear up past credentialing issues.

Today's matter is continuing the ICONS countdown with another legendary football player. I am a little young to remember seeing him play at Purdue, especially his epic final game where he went both ways to almost single-handedly defeat Indiana. That game has taken on legendary proportions in the eyes of many Purdue fans. With 443 votes, Rod Woodson was voted the #7 Purdue ICON.

High School Career

From the very beginning it looked like Rod Woodson was going to go to a Hall of Fame, it was just a question of which one. He is truly one of those rare players that is simply given a gift of pure athleticism and he can pick which sport he wants to dominate. At Snider High in Ft. Wayne is where Woodson began his legendary career. They have long been one of the better teams in the state, but with Woodson they reached their first ever State Finals in 1981. He was a standout defensive back, but he also played running back and wide receiver on offense. He earned all-state honors his final two years as a defensive back.

Woodson was also a hell of a basketball player and track athlete. He won four state championships as a track individual, taking both the high and low hurdles in each of his final two years of high school. In basketball he was a member of the team for the last two years of his career, earning all-conference honors as a senior.

Purdue loved both his football prowess and his track achievements, and Woodson reciprocated because he had an interest in electrical engineering. While he never had to fall back on his degree, it is nice to see he was very interested in a difficult academic field.

Time at Purdue

It is a familiar refrain, but Woodson's career, like Alstott's, is somewhat overshadowed by the fact we just were not a very good football team in those days. It is my hope the Ricardo Allen's career doesn't turn out the same from a team perspective, even though I would love for it to turn out that way as an individual. Woodson was a starter from the day he set foot on campus. He started at safety for two and a half years before moving exclusively to cornerback.

Woodson was a lockdown defensive back from the beginning. Big Ten passing games were rare in those days, but he could virtually erase any opposing receiver. Over the course of his career he was a superior tackler too. He had 445 career tackles, 320 of them unassisted with a record 19 in the 1984 Peach Bowl as a sophomore. He also left with 11 career interceptions, which was tied for the school record until Stu Schweigert broke it.

The results on the field didn't follow. Purdue was 3-7-1 in 1983, beating only bad teams for Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana. The tie was against a fairly mediocre Michigan State team. Woodson helped Leon Burtnett to his only winning season in 1984 as Purdue beat Notre Dame 23-21 in the Hoosier Dome opener. The Miami Hurricanes then beat us in our home opener 28-17 before we reeled off three straight wins over Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Since the Big Ten was a true round-robin in those days, we had an early 3-0 advantage before losing to Iowa and Illinois. We rebounded with wins over Northwestern and Michigan (marking the last time we beat Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in the same season), but lost to Wisconsin before beating winless Indiana.

That 7-4 regular season allowed us to put our perfect 4-0 bowl record on the line in the Peach Bowl, where Woodson had the aforementioned 19 tackles. A late collapse led to a 27-24 loss.

After that, the bottom fell out even though Woodson got even better. He shifted over to cornerback from safety midway through the next season, but Purdue was just 5-6 despite beating Notre Dame for a second straight year. It would be Purdue's last victory over the Fighting Irish until 1997. Purdue came close in several games. A 31-30 loss to Pittsburgh opened the season. A four point loss to Michigan State and three point loss to Big Ten champ Iowa would eventually cost them a bowl game.

Things got even worse when Woodson was a senior. Purdue went just 3-8 beating only Ball State, Northwestern, and Indiana.

The Legendary Indiana Game

The Hoosiers were just beginning to come around under Bill Mallory, as they were in the midst of their first winning season since 1979. Purdue was going nowhere. In Woodson's final game coach Burtnett chose to line him up at tailback, a position he had never played at Purdue. He blitzed the Hoosiers for over 150 yards combined rushing and receiving, made ten tackles, forced a fumble, returned three punts for 30 yards, two kickoffs for 46 yards, drove the team bus to the stadium, called every play, and had a record 25 shots at Harry's later that night.

This was probably the greatest effort from a single player in Purdue history. Woodson assured that he never lost the Bucket while wearing Gold and Black, and I say gold and black because Purdue debuted gold uniforms for that game. It capped a career that saw Woodson named as a three-time all-Big Ten selection and two-time All-American. In 1984, he made a staggering 136 tackles. As a return man, he had 1,535 yards as a kick returner over his career and was solid bringing back punts as well returning 19 for 167 yards in 1986. In 1986, he had 1,224 all-purpose yards. All-told, he left Purdue with 13 individual records, and he is still in the top ten in five categories.

That wasn't his entire Purdue career, either. Woodson spent each spring with the Purdue track team, winning All-America honors twice there and five Big Ten championships. He remains as the school record-holder in the 60 and 110 meter hurdles. He actually qualified for the 1984 Olympic trials and could have medaled at the Los Angeles games, but he chose to concentrate on football instead. Finally, the new award for the Big Ten's best defensive back bears his name.

Pro Career

Woodson's Purdue career led to him being the highest drafted Boilermaker of the last 30 years. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him 10th overall in the 1987 NFL Draft, and they would be very pleased with that pick. The Steelers enjoyed him for 10 years as a cornerback and he became arguably the greatest defensive back in the history of the NFL. He would likely be a Hall of Famer if you had his Steeler career alone, but he played an additional seven years after leaving Pittsburgh.

Woodson needs to give back to his alma mater for what happened during the 1995 NFL season. He tore his ACL against the Lions early in the season, but returned just 19 weeks later to play in Super Bowl XXX. 19 weeks? Are you kidding me? Those are the kind of recuperative powers that could have had Robbie Hummel on the court in this year's NCAA Tournament. This was in 1995 too, before modern sutgical techniques have made ACL repairs even easier.

The 49ers enjoyed him for a season, then he signed with the Baltimore Ravens for four seasons. It was in Baltimore that he won his only Super Bowl ring. He finished his career wit the Raiders,w her he would play in his third Super Bowl (with three different teams. At age 37 he led the NFL with eight interceptions, showing was an unstoppable force even as one of the oldest players in the league.

His NFL records are more numerous than his Purdue records. In his 17 NFL seasons, Woodson recorded 71 interceptions, 1,483 interception return yards, 32 fumble recoveris137 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. 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 third all time.

What's amazing is his consistency. He started on Super Bowl teams 12 years apart in two different cities. He was named to 11 Pro Bowls and was a 6-time All-Pro selection. In 2009 NFL.com rated him as the #41 player of all-time in NFL history. He had a Defensive Player of the Year award in 1993 and was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team as one of just five active players at the time.

Ironically, Woodson's NFL career finished before the 2004 season when he failed his team physical. His replacement? Stu Schweigert.

Post playing career

Woodson has served as a high school coach for his five children since retiring. He has also been an analyst for the NFL Network. Earlier this year he agreed to be the cornerbacks coach for the Raiders, giving him his first professional coaching job. This comes just two years after he was honored with selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The fact that he is not yet in the College Hall of Fame with Mark Herrmann going in this past weekend is a travesty.

I don't know if there are any superlatives you can put on Woodson's career. From the time he started his high school career until his retirement in 2004 he was not only a great player, but he was one of the best on the field at any given time during that span. If anything, he is more of a legend for his Pro Career than his NFL career, yet he still gave Purdue plenty of credit during his Hall of Fame speech. It is an honor that Purdue gave his career the start it needed before the NFL.

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