Hopefully, Ring Of Honor Induction Leads To Bigger, Better Things For Hall-worthy Woodson
Burdened by a bias that makes no room for Cowboy immortals, the national media has spent ten years pondering and arguing away Darren Woodson’s rightful place in football history. Give credit to Jerry Jones for taking the initiative and doing the right thing. No, this wasn’t the Pro Football Hall of Fame that Woodson was entering and, no, this wasn’t Jimmy Johnson’s career that Jerry was commemorating, but it’s probably the next best thing to it.
Darren Woodson’s first step in what should be an ultimate landing place within the walls of Canton someday in the near future happened on Sunday afternoon when he took his rightful place among the all-time greats of America’s Team. Before 91,000 fans at AT&T Stadium, Woodson was a popular inductee into the Cowboys’ hallowed Ring of Honor at halftime of the Cowboys’ 13-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
An overshadowed member of those great Cowboy teams of the 1990’s, Woodson won three Super Bowl rings during a thirteen-year career at free safety with Dallas. Far more than simply a fortunate beneficiary of the Cowboys’ corporate success, Woodson’s tenaciousness between the lines and versatile skill set made him a favorite among teammates and a regular patron of the beaches in Honolulu during early February.
Historians have argued that Woodson’s best seasons came while playing alongside Deion Sanders in the defensive backfield, when the All-Pro cornerback virtually shut down one-half of the field by himself. It’s also been observed upon more than one occasion that he was playing with pass-rusher specialists Charles Haley and Leon Lett as well, which, theoretically, made Woodson’s job in the pass-coverage much easier. What goes underappreciated, or simply unnoticed, is Woodson’s contributions away from Sanders’ side of the field.
Woodson played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1994-98, and was voted to three All-Pro teams because he was more than just another defensive back who made his living in the outfield. Opponents remember him as a hard-hitter both near the line of scrimmage and across the middle in pass defense. They also recall a rare specimen of a strong safety who could lock down on a slot receiver in one-on-one coverage. Jerry Rice. Amani Toomer. Wayne Chrebet. It didn’t matter. Woodson handled them all.
As was his nature while playing, Woodson is quick to deflect the praise that comes his way, choosing instead to honor those he shared the backfield with, players such as Brock Marion, Scott Case, James Washington and Roy Williams. He credits position coach Mike Zimmer, and defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Dave Campo for his progression as a player. He’s also quick to admit that without a man named Jimmy Johnson, none of the accolades he received on this All Saints Day would be possible.
It was the Dallas scouting staff that saw some potential in an undersized linebacker out of Arizona State before the 1992 draft. It was Johnson, the team’s fourth-year head coach, who pulled the trigger in the fourth round as the final piece in a concentrated effort to re-vamp a lackluster Cowboys secondary.
Johnson’s Cowboys had turned a lot of heads in 1991, compiling eleven victories and the franchise’s first playoff victory in nine years. But a lack of playmakers on the backend had him concerned about his defense’s ability to turn the corner heading into the 1992 season. If the Cowboys were to take that next step and contend with NFC powerhouses Washington and San Francisco, the secondary would need to become familiar with the football. Of Dallas’ 12 interceptions during the 1991 season, none came from the secondary, a glaring statistic for a team expected to play in big games against the best offenses in the coming years.
Johnson’s strategy in the early rounds of April’s draft was designed to change that trend, as the Cowboys selected both Texas A&M cornerback Kevin Smith and Woodson in the span of thirty-seven picks. The rest is a part of franchise lore, as the Cowboys won their first of three Super Bowls in a four-year span in 1992, defeating the mighty Buffalo Bills 52-17.
The criteria for gaining admittance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is confusing to the point of being irrelevant. Fortunately, the Ring of Honor selection process is not nearly so complicated, though the presence of Jerry can make it so for non-players. Woodson’s standing as the franchise’s all-time leader in tackles made it easy for Jones to tag him, a vitally important factor in the process. You see, it rarely turns out good when Jerry has to strain his mental faculties in any capacity.
At long last, the term “Cowboy lifer” took on an entirely new meaning for Darren Woodson on Sunday. Thanks to Jimmy, thanks to Jerry, and thanks to a career that was too good to be missed.