Last player from Cowboy's Super Bowl dynasty exits
Quarterbacks guessed whether No. 28 might be coming on a blitz. Running backs checked which side he was on so they could head the other way. Slot receivers who lined up against him knew they had better run precise routes to get open.
And he was pretty good at chasing down kickoff returners, too.
Doing all those things for all those years took a toll on Woodson's body. He had back surgery just before training camp and never totally regained his strength, so on Wednesday the hard-hitting safety announced his retirement.
His departure seals his team-record total of tackles at 1,350, but more importantly it ends a significant era in Cowboys history: Woodson was the last player left from the 1992, '93 and '95 Super Bowl champions and he was the last player in Dallas drafted and groomed by Jimmy Johnson.
Woodson's legacy goes further, though, because he also was a classy representative of the franchise during an era when several of his high-profile teammates weren't. Other than some tackles so ferocious that they drew heavy fines, about the worst thing he did was urge fans to drink more before home games so they would cheer louder.
"For 13 years, he was everything you could ask for -- unselfish, reliable, dependable, a team player first and a team leader always," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He's a living, breathing example of the saying that character does matter."
Woodson smiled throughout an upbeat speech filled with thank-yous and practically devoid of on-field memories. He focused mostly on the relationships in and out of football that helped him go from being a college linebacker to a four-time All-Pro safety.
He also stressed how much he appreciated being part of the Dallas organization.
"It was special to have that star on my helmet, knowing that everywhere we go we're going to get everybody's best shot," he said. "That's what it meant to be a Cowboy."
Woodson was looking forward to his 13th season when the herniated disk was discovered. What was supposed to be a half-season setback ended up leading to a nerve problem that made a return impossible.
He knew about a month ago when he tried backpedaling and couldn't do it right. The look on the trainer's face combined with his own disappointment sent him home to discuss his future with his wife. He leaves with two years left on his contract.
"My ideal retirement was playing in the Super Bowl," Woodson said. "There's 20 seconds left, I intercept a pass and run it in, then I tell Jerry, 'I'm done.' "
Woodson's wife and three children attended the news conference, as did an impressive group of former teammates: Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Charles Haley, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith and Chad Hennings. Woodson said he spoke with Emmitt Smith for nearly three hours Tuesday.
Woodson was a rookie when Dallas won its first Super Bowl after Jones took over. By his fourth season, he'd won three titles.
The Cowboys have won just one playoff game since, but Woodson kept his grumbling behind closed doors. Jones thanked Woodson for being loyal to all four coaches since Johnson.
"He was the first to buy into whatever our coaches were selling," Jones said.
Woodson said his only regret was not playing more than one season under coach Bill Parcells. The feeling is mutual, with Parcells frequently telling the story about the time he first saw Woodson.
Parcells was visiting a practice during the heyday of Aikman, Smith, Michael Irvin, Haley and other stars. Yet he remembers being most impressed by the size and speed of No. 28, referring to him by number because he had to ask Johnson for the kid's name.
"Now that I've gotten to know him, I think he's one of those people that you really think a lot of," Parcells said. "He's the epitome of a professional, what he did in playing and his approach to the game. I have a high regard for him personally as well."
Teammates adored him, too.
La'Roi Glover said he signed with Dallas in part to be Woodson's teammate. His protege at safety, Roy Williams, has become so close that he's known as "Uncle Roy" in the Woodson household; he's also headed to his second Pro Bowl in three years.
Woodson, 35, worked as a color analyst for two NFL Europe games last summer and he's dabbled in local broadcasting. He's considering pursuing it more, and spending more time with businesses he's invested in.
Jones said the Cowboys will put Woodson on the reserved-retired list.
"We'll always keep his rights," Jones said, smiling, "just in case."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press