I'll take that!
The Pittsburgh Steelers used its first round draft pick in 1987 on Purdue All-America Rod Woodson. The multi-dimensional athlete not only played at safety and cornerback for the Boilermakers but saw action as a punt and kickoff returner, running back, and wide receiver. In addition, Woodson was also a two-time All-America selection in track.
He did not come to terms with the Steelers until late October of his rookie year. At one point during the contract negotiations, he contemplated training in track for the upcoming 1988 Olympic Games. Fortunate for the Steelers, Woodson signed his contract and after a two-week roster exemption joined the team on the field. At first, he was used as a nickel back and on kickoff returns.
By his third NFL game, Woodson showed exactly why he was the 10th player, and first defensive back, selected in that year’s draft. Listed third on the depth chart in a game against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on Nov. 22, Woodson was inserted into the secondary during the first half. In the final minute of the second quarter, he recorded his first career interception when he picked off a Boomer Esiason pass. More importantly for Pittsburgh, once Woodson had the ball in hands he raced 45 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers ahead 13-3 en route to a 30-16 win that day.
There were many more of those types of plays to follow. Fast forward three teams and 17 years later, and Woodson retired as the NFL’s all-time leader with 12 interceptions returned for touchdowns.
|Woodson’s career Int. by Qtr.|
In all, Woodson picked off 71 passes and today ranks third all-time in that category behind two other Hall of Famers Paul Krause and Emlen Tunnell. Woodson recorded 38 interceptions with the Steelers, three as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, 20 while playing in Baltimore and 10 more in his last two seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
Eight times during his Hall of Fame career he had multiple-interception games. Interestingly, the first two times he picked off a pair of passes in the same game came during a regular season opener against a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. Woodson intercepted the Houston Oilers’ Warren Moon twice in the 1992 opener. One season later, he started another season with two picks, this time against Steve Young of the 49ers.
The 11-time Pro Bowler registered a career-high three interceptions in the same game twice. The first time came in his only season in San Francisco. In a game against the New Orleans Saints he picked off Heath Shuler twice in the first quarter and Danny Wuerffel in the third quarter.
His other three-pick day came during his first year in Oakland. Not at all showing his age, Woodson had a spectacular year in 2002. He shared the NFL lead with 8 picks, three of which came against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4. He intercepted Steve McNair once each in the first, third, and fourth quarters. His first pick came on the game’s second play that began a Raiders’ rout. The second one he returned 82 yards for a touchdown and eclipsed Tunnell’s career interception return yardage mark.
On Nov. 11, 2002, Woodson scored his 12th and final touchdown on an interception. Saving the best for last, it was the longest return of his storied career. He intercepted the Denver Broncos’ Brian Griese at the two-yard-line and raced 98 yards to the opposite end zone.
Woodson added two more interceptions to his career total during his final season. His last interception came on Nov. 16, 2003 against the Minnesota Vikings’ Daunte Culpepper. Like most of the 70 interceptions that preceded this one, Woodson’s stole the ball during a crucial moment of the game. Late in the fourth quarter with the Vikings trailing 21-18 and backed up to their own four-yard-line, Culpepper attempted a pass on 3rd down-and-10 but Woodson stepped in front of it at the 24 and returned the ball 13 yards to the Vikings’ 11-yard-line. Four plays later, the Raiders scored to put the game out of reach.
|Rod Woodson’s 71 career interceptions:|
|Bold indicates interception was returned for TD|
|24||9/27/1993||PIT||ATL||Billy Joe Tolliver||3||17|
|25||9/27/1993||PIT||ATL||Billy Joe Tolliver||4||0|
|53||12/19/1999||BAL||NO||Billy Joe Tolliver||1||31|