Rod Woodson and several other former Steelers recently took part in the team’s annual fantasy camp. The camp included drills led by former Steelers along with stories from Woodson and the rest of the former players. Woodson was joined at the camp by fellow former Steelers Dermontti Dawson, Louis Lipps, Dwayne Woodruff, Arthur Moats, Shaun Suisham, Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin.
It’s been 22 years since Woodson’s glorious tenure in Pittsburgh prematurely came to an end. The Steelers’ best player during the 1990s, Woodson wanted a longterm deal entering the 1997 season, his 11th in the NFL. Instead, Pittsburgh offered him a three-year, $3 million deal. Woodson rejected the offer and, just like that, one of the greatest careers in franchise history was over.
A Hall of Famer and member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team as well as the Steelers’ newly former Hall of Honor, Woodson eventually ended up San Francisco, where he spent one season before spending the next four years with the Ravens, helping Baltimore capture a Super Bowl victory in the year 2000. Woodson’s career ended with a two year stint in Oakland, with Woodson helping the Raiders advance to Super Bowl XXXVII.
Pittsburgh’s decision to let Woodson go remains one of the worst decisions in franchise history, a decision that the late Dan Rooney immediately regretted.
”When Franco Harris went to Seattle, that was the most difficult,” Rooney told the New York Times in 1996. ”But this thing with Rod is right up there. Right up to now, I wanted Rod on our team. You can blame it on the salary cap. You can blame it on anything you want. I really wish he was finishing his career with us for a lot of reasons. It hurts.”
Woodson shared Rooney’s sentiments. After a decade in Pittsburgh that included seven Pro Bowls and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 1993, Woodson wouldn’t be ending his career as a Steeler.
”The new way of doing business in the NFL is not a pleasant business,” Woodson said at the time. “Management thinks this is a young man’s game. There is no consideration for what you have done, only for what they think you can do. After the season last year, the Steelers wouldn’t even talk to me. They never looked me in the face and said, ‘Rod, we don’t think you can play anymore.’ They finally made a low offer that they must have known I would refuse, to make me look like the guy that was running out of town. Well, I am leaving, and I have made this decision with my heart. Disappointed? Yes. But more than that, I am hurt. And if it hurts, then that says that this team and this city, to me, meant a lot.”
After suffering a major knee injury to open the 1995 season, Woodson unbelievably returned to help limit the Dallas’ offense to just 254 in a near upset of the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. It appeared that Woodson was going to return to his All-Pro form.
While he picked off six passes and earning another Pro Bowl selection in 1996, Woodson, then 31 years old, gave up more deep passes in 1996 than in previous seasons. The final memory of Woodson wearing the black and gold is not a pretty one, with Pats’ rookie Terry Glenn blowing past him to catch a 53-yard bomb that jumpstarted New England’s 28-3 victory over Pittsburgh in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Simply put, the Steelers weren’t sure if Woodson had four-five years left in him, and offered him a less than desirable offer during the 1997 offseason. Instead of taking the offer, Woodson elected to bet on himself, and the result was seven more seasons, four more Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring before retiring in 2004.
But if both sides could do it again, Woodson would have certainly remained in Pittsburgh for the remainder of his career while possibly winning his Super Bowl ring with the team and city he is still celebrated in to this day. But instead of living in the past, Woodson instead has chosen to celebrate his time in Pittsburgh. Woodson, in turn, can rest assured that the fans that watched him in Pittsburgh won’t soon forget him, either.
“I spent 10 years there and people still see me as player for the Steelers,” Woodson recently told Steelers.com. “I still see myself as a Steeler, wearing the black and gold. I wore black and gold when I was in high school. My college was black and gold, then I spent 10 years in black and gold with the Steelers. It is a part of who I am. It’s the same colors I’ve been wearing since I was 14 years old until I left Pittsburgh.
“Normally the people that do come up to me are Steelers fans. They are everywhere. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you’ll find a Steelers fan somewhere. When I moved out here to California, there was a Steelers flag flying right around the corner from my house. You realize that if you wear black and gold, because I think that’s the only city that their NFL, baseball, and hockey team all have the same colors, so if you wear black and gold, you’re part of the family. You’re part of the community.”