Growing up without a father influence in a rough neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona, five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion, Darren Woodson, learned from a young age if he wanted to leave life on the streets, he was going to need some serious motivation and determination.
“My father was never there,” Woodson said. “My father was that guy, the hustler on the street.”
Although, because Woodson’s father was such a poor influence in his life, it motivated him to never become like him.
“He was also a guy who would promise,” Woodson said. “Saying “Hey I’m going to be there at 1:00” and he’d never show up. And those things always stuck in my mind and I’d say you know, when I get older, I’m not going to be that guy.”
Woodson started his path to success at Arizona State University where he met one of the first big influences in his career ethic, coach Lovie Smith.
“I was very selfish coming in as a college freshman and he molded me into being a man early on,” Woodson said.
Smith helped shape Woodson, but when Woodson was given the opportunity to give back during his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, that was an opportunity he had looked forward to since he was young.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where I never met people. No one ever came back to the neighborhood and gave back to us so, I always felt like if I had the opportunity to give something than why not,” Woodson said.
Woodson, recognized as the Bart Starr Man of the year in 2001, has worked with different many charities, but says one that always stands out to him was working with Make-A-Wish foundation with a 7-year-old cancer patient named Sarah. Sarah and Woodson had a great time walking down the stage for their “fashion show” and talking for the rest of the day.
“They always say the feeling that you have when you get closest to god is when you get goose bumps for doing something good,” Woodson said.
The next year Woodson spotted Sarah’s mom and went over to say hello. When he looked around and asked where Sarah was, he was devastated when she said Sarah had passed away.
“She showed me all these pictures of me and Sarah from the year before and showed me all these pictures of her smiling and she said that was one of the best days for Sarah. And that’s special,” Woodson said. “I mean, those are the special times and as far as being an athlete or just being someone who can put a smile on someone’s face you know that’s what it’s about.”