WACO, Texas – So thought I knew everything there is to know about Darren Woodson over these past 25 years.
You know, how former Arizona State assistant coach Lovie Smith basically raised him as a Sun Devil in his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz.
How Cowboys defensive assistant Dave Campo was the guy insisting to head coach Jimmy Johnson that the Cowboys select this hybrid linebacker with cover skills in the second round of the 1992 draft.
How a guy as smart as Woodson didn’t qualify for an athletic scholarship coming out of high school because, having grown up in the bad part of town, he didn’t have his priorities in the right order.
How his mother, a single mother, did all she could to raise a family and keep young Darren going down the straightest path possible when detours were there at every corner.
How he was the guy you wanted to talk to after games, win or lose, such a straight shooter with a natural gift to verbalize the insight as to why or why not the Cowboys won or didn’t win a game.
For all 13 years of his career spent at The Ranch, whether playing for Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Campo or Bill Parcells, he was consistently honest and knew he’d be a natural if he ever went into the television broadcast business.
That he was the last player from the Cowboys 1990s Super Bowl dynasty era to call it quits, late December 2004 when only severe back problems could do him in during that season of inactivity.
Well, this past Tuesday at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductions here on the campus of Baylor University, with “Woody” one of eight inductees, including former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, the coaching icon in the state of Texas, be it high school, college or pros, I did learn something new about Darren Woodson.
Woody gave me some well-deserved abuse when pointing out that revelation to him, especially since after his playing days we’ve done so many appearances together, for charity functions, fan functions or corporate functions when he’s been signing and signing.
But for some reason I particularly noticed “lefty” this day at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame waiting to interview the former Cowboys safety while he was busy signing the artist-rendering posters of himself before the event ever began.
“Come on ‘Spags,’” he would say, somewhat disappointed in my lack of attention to detail.
That might have been, but here is something that certainly has not escaped my attention after watching him play every one of those 194 games during his Cowboys career: Darren Ray Woodson heartily deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now, he’s been nipping on the perimeter of induction, having advanced to the final 25 these past three years since first becoming eligible after the five-year waiting period expired in 2009. But that’s as far as he’s advanced, only to the semifinals, but never to the final 15. Never has the committee talked about his credentials in the room the day before a Super Bowl when those final decisions are made.
And that’s a dirty rotten shame.
So this past Tuesday here at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, when interviewing Woody I said, “Well, the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2015, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, is the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next step?”
He smiled and said, “Now that’s your job.”
So I’m starting to do my job, and will continue bringing common sense to the 48-person voting committee so those voters can properly do their jobs. And you can do so, too, tactfully, without becoming overbearing Cowboys fans. Write your congressmen, er, the voting members representing your cities. Their names are listed on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website. Certainly they all have Twitter accounts. And don’t make your requests parochial. Make them factual. Woody deserves that.
See, I understand what happens with this voting, especially for those who might not have seen Woodson play every one of his 194 regular-season and postseason games. All they have to go on sometimes is statistics, and here is what happens for defensive backs: They look at interceptions and then compare them to other candidates or other Hall of Famers.
Darren Woodson’s career goes far beyond his 23 interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. Look, he’s in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, one of just eight defensive players among the 21 honorees. He’s even in the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, and now has become the first defensive player from those 1990s Cowboys teams inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, where they don’t just let any ol’ non-Texan in.
But if numbers mean anything, then this one should ring out like those old hourly church bells:
NO player in the 57-season history of the Dallas Cowboys has made more career tackles than Darren Woodson’s 1,350. None.
Think about that. We’re not talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars here. We’re not talking about the all-time leading tackler of the New York Jets or the Detroit Lions or the Buffalo Bills. We’re talking about the Dallas Cowboys, winners of five Super Bowls, qualifiers of eight. We’re talking about the only franchise to string together 20 consecutive winning seasons. The Cowboys now.
We are talking a franchise with four defensive Super Bowl MVPs. A franchise with five defensive Hall of Fame members. We are talking a franchise with the likes of Bob Lilly, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Charles Haley, Lee Roy Jordan, Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Why, Cliff Harris, Harvey Martin, Deion Sanders and Ken Norton.
And this guy, Darren Woodson, has more tackles than any of ’em, exactly 124 more than Jordan, the previous leader who played two more seasons than Woody. That has to mean something.
And yes, I know, Hall of Famer Charles Haley has been considered the last piece to the Cowboys’ Super Bowl puzzle during the ’90s. But if you are looking for the glue to those defenses that finished in the top 10 seven of eight seasons, from 1990-1997, it was Darren Woodson. Go ask any of his former coaches, they’ll tell you.
Oh, and while Haley arrived in 1992, the first of those three Super Bowl winning seasons in four years, well, uh, so did Woody, a rookie learning to not only play safety but go into the slot on the Cowboys’ nickel defense.
That’s right, the slot. And for the majority of his 13-year career. Here is a guy who could play safety, but on third down Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson and every head coach following him sent Woody into the slot. Yep, he had to cover the likes of Jerry Rice at times – a safety now – and remember, when you’re in the slot, you normally are running with those speedy receivers one-on-one.
I can remember clear as day the time Johnson told me he had made a big mistake Woodson’s rookie season by not giving him a fair chance to compete for the starting safety job, assuming the transition to a totally new position would be too much for an NFL rookie. Realized after the 1993 season that Woodson was just a little different than everyone else.
And … and … Woody played special teams – his entire career. Kickoff and punt coverage for sure. Never complained about being what they like to call a four-down player. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. Neither would long-time special teams coach, the late Joe Avezzano. That alone should earn Woodson some Hall of Fame extra credit. How many of those current Hall of Fame safeties did that their entire careers?
So what guys need to remember is Woody is a five-time Pro Bowler, though had the misfortunate of playing on five teams without a winning record in his final eight seasons. He is a three-time all-Pro selection, and darn it, when he broke Jordan’s all-time franchise tackle record, he did so in the anonymity of Emmitt Smith breaking Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record that same game.
Hey, if the likes of John Lynch and Brian Dawkins can advance to the final 15, as they did this year, then what the what with Woodson, a far more complete player than either of those two guys. Plus, he has three Super Bowl rings and played in four consecutive NFC title games and 16 playoff games.
Come on, just put the tape on and watch. As my high school coach would tell us, the tape don’t lie. Do not reduce this game to mere metrics.
Just use your eyes, or count on those of Parcells, who thought so much of Woodson after their initial 2003 season together that he cajoled him to come back for what turned out to be the ill-fated 2004 season. He needed a quality guy like that around on the field and in the locker room when trying to rebuild the Cowboys into something again.
So yeah, I know, it’s only February 24. We have a long way to go before the initial list of potential Hall of Famers comes out for the Class of 2018. And even further until that list is pared down to 25 and then 15.
But it’s never too soon to help those voters to do the right thing.
Come on, Darren Woodson for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
OK, Woody, there. Just starting to do my job.