When Dallas Cowboys Owner and GM Jerry Jones inducted Drew Pearson, Larry Allen, and Charley Haley in to the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, it brought the total to 20 men (18 players plus Tom Landry and Tex Schramm) in the Ring. It also sparked questions about whether Charley Haley deserved to be in The Ring, and that controversy led some of us to start thinking about who should be the next to get inducted in to the Ring.
We decided to let you, the Dallas Cowboys faithful, determine which Cowboy player(s) most deserve to be in the Ring of Honor. We will continue providing profiles for the 10 finalists this week. If you want to read about the methodology we used to create the list of 10 finalists or the 3 players who received Honorable Mentions for almost making the Top 10, please click here. You can also read about the first four candidates here (Daryl Johnston) and here (Jay Novacek) and here (Ed “To Tall” Jones) and here (Everson Walls).
SportDFW would like to thank B-rad for assisting us with the Top 10 Series. B-rad was part of the panel that choose the candidates, and he composed this week’s profile featuring Darren Woodson.
It is human nature to overlook what one has, especially in the pursuit of what one doesn’t have. Darren Woodson’s greatness has likely been hammered home to most of you, as it was to me, by the gaping hole left in the Dallas Cowboys defence, since his retirement, and by the subsequent inability to replace him as a physical presence on the field and an emotional leader in the locker room. This is not to say that he wasn’t recognized as elite during his playing days, he most certainly was, but rather to underscore the organizational importance of a player, and person, of Woodson’s calibre.
Woodson was raised by his mother in a Phoenix neighbourhood rife with crime and gang activity. He played RB and LB in high school and was a standout at both, once scoring 6 TDs in a game as a senior.
Woodson was a walk-on at Arizona State University, ASU, as he did not meet NCAA academic qualifications for a scholarship, but he quickly earned himself a reputation as a keen football mind and a game changing hitter, the kind that made others question their own mettle when faced with the prospect of entering his area of the field. Woodson was mentored at ASU by then LB coach Lovie Smith; he was voted the team’s Most Improved Player following his sophomore campaign when he led the team in tackles and tackles for loss.
By his senior year, Woodson’s versatility was apparent, lining up at DE and ILB in addition to his usual OLB spot on the defence, but his size, 6’1” 220 lbs, was making it hard to envision where he may fit on a professional roster. While on a scouting visit to ASU, Dave Campo spotted Woodson and had a vision for his abundant skills, Campo saw him as a safety. His evident football acumen combined with his ferocity and fearlessness were the tools that Campo thought could be harnessed and utilized best as a DB. From a size stand point, the switch would take him from undersized LB to oversized S, but did he have the range necessary to successfully complete the transformation. The Dallas Cowboys thought so and in 1992 took a chance at #37 on a player that didn’t really have prototypical size for the position. Woodson was one of early “Tweeners” that have become so celebrated in the NFL, (though the usual Tweener is a college DE and a pro OLB).
Jimmy Johnson quickly realized what he had in Woodson and though he spent his rookie season almost exclusively on special teams, during practice sessions Jimmy had him working against WRs in coverage as a CB. What Jimmy saw was a LB against the run with CB coverage skills and S play recognition. Soon we would all see what Jimmy did. In 1993 Woodson supplanted James Washington at SS and led the team in tackles, setting a franchise record for a DB, with 155.
What set Woody apart was not his ability to be exceptional at one facet of the game, but his ability in all facets of the game. He was the Cowboys’ slot CB in nickel packages. Let that marinade just a little while. The Cowboys had their run game enforcer playing the most difficult coverage position, and not just playing but owning the position. He was impossible to get off the field. His versatility foiled many offensive game plans, running against the Cowboys nickel was an exercise in futility given that, by formation, the squad’s premier run stuffer was already down around the line of scrimmage, and those that chose to test him in the passing game soon realized what Jimmy already knew, that he possessed uncommon ability in coverage, especially for his size, and play recognition coupled with ball skills that enabled him to excel covering WRs in the slot.
Woodson roamed the Cowboys’ secondary for the next 11 years earning 5 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1994-1998, and All-Pro honours from 1994-1996; he finished his career with a Cowboys record 1350 tackles. These accolades combined with 3 Super Bowl rings certainly give Woodson an impressive CV for ROH consideration. While his own accomplishments are numerous and visible, what may not be as easily discernable is how he made those players around him better with his on the field coaching as well as his outstanding physical tools.
Woodson’s leadership and support are squarely responsible for success of the 2003 defence who ranked 1 or 2 in nearly all statistical categories. Most notable was Roy Williams’ success when paired with Woodson and his inability to recapture that form following Woodson’s retirement after the 2004 season, which he sat out due to a herniated disc. Neither Woodson’s physical presence in the secondary, nor his leadership on the defense, have been replaced.
There has been much talk about Cowboys leadership, or lack thereof, and I would submit that Woodson was the last defensive player, or perhaps player period, to exude the quality. He was the only Cowboy to play for both Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells and as such was the last of the Championship Cowboys on the roster. When the Cowboys lost Woodson, they also lost part of what it takes to be great, the confidence and swagger to talk the talk and the ability and determination to walk the walk. Further, as a quarterback of the defence he has proven to be yet irreplaceable. All remember the struggles endured while trying to replace Aikman, these struggles are still being endured on the defensive side of the ball as they have yet to replace Woody. Perhaps this is the folly, thinking that a Woodson can be replaced.
I think that Woodson’s recognized accomplishments make him worthy of ROH consideration but it’s what the team has been missing and unable to replace since his retirement that affirms to me that Darren Woodson should be in the Ring of Honor.