Rod Woodson Enshrinement speech

Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium
August 8, 2009


Rich Eisen (emcee):
All right, it's time.  Rod Woodson.  That's right.  You could define Rod Woodson by statistics quite easily.  17 seasons, 11 Pro Bowls, 71 interceptions.  12 of them to the house.  Still today a National Football League record.  A member of the 75th Anniversary Team after just seven playing seasons.  After just seven seasons, he was considered one of the best all time at his position.  But really none of that defined Rod Woodson.  Things like humility,  kindness, love, family, faith.  Those are the things that define Rod Woodson.  The true personification of the old phrase, to know him is to love him.  But don't take my word for it.  Take the word of his presenter.  A long, long, long time friend, Tracy Foster. 

Presenter Video:
You know, Rod and I have actually known each other since we were kids--about eight or nine years old.  We used to take music lessons at the same place.  It goes back that far.  You know, the young Rod Woodson is exactly like the Rod Woodson now, and is exactly like the Rod Woodson when he was playing. 

I tell people this all the time.  Rod is basically a shy guy.  He would be more comfortable sitting in the back of a room full of people, quiet, to himself, chit-chatting here and there.  I like to say he's a reluctant celebrity.  He really is. 

Rod Woodson rises to the occasion.  I think people are going to remember him as a fierce competitor.  I think they're going to remember him as a Pittsburgh Steeler.  I think they're going to remember him the way he hit on the football field.  The way he tackled.  I think they're going to remember that.  And I think they're also going to remember all the touchdowns he scored playing defense. 

The one thing about Rod that people always talk about how great an athlete he is.  His determination and his dedication to something.  He is one of the hardest working guys that I've ever seen.  In 1995, when Rod got hurt against the Detroit Lions that year, and he blew out his knee,  he asked the Steelers not to put him on IR because he talked about coming back.  And everybody said you can't do it.  He just quietly worked and worked and worked to come back.  And when he came back, everybody was surprised.  It was unbelievable.  He actually played in the Super Bowl. I mean, just one fantastic accomplishment.

What separates Rod the man from Rod the football player?  Rod the football player, he's going out there, he's going to compete.  He's going hard every second.  He's going to get upset.  He's going to get angry.  He's going after it.  He wants to win.  He wants to do his best.  He wants to be the man is calm.  When he's playing here in Pittsburgh he never left his house for four weeks.  For four weeks.  He left his house to take the garbage out to the curb.  But he stayed there because he'd wake up and walk the kids out to the bus, and meet him at the bus in the afternoon, and bring them back in the house, and I went over there one time, he had his afro, and had had grown a little beard of the said what are you doing?  He said, man, I'm just enjoying my time here at home with the kids and the family.  That's who Rod Woodson is.  He'd rather be at home with the family than do anything else. 

He did more the first day showing up at the Steelers complex to practice.  It's a culmination of that that he feels humbled by it.  He appreciates.  He went into playing professional football saying I'm just going to do the best can, and he's ended up in the Hall of Fame doing the best that he can.  
Please welcome Tracy Foster.

Tracy Foster: (presenter):
You know there is really nothing that I can tell anybody in this stadium or anywhere in the world anymore about Rod Woodson as a football player than you already know.  Everybody knows whether you cheered for him, or whether you cheered against him.  Everybody knows about his speed.  Everybody knows about his ability to cover.  Everybody knows about his ability to hit.  Everybody knows about his ball-hawking ability, and punt return ability.  We all know that stuff.  And we also all know all the accolades that he's accumulated with that greatness with those extraordinary athletic abilities.

We know all of that.  And it's led him to the Hall of Fame.  And that's why we're here today to celebrate the great accomplishments of Rod Woodson as a professional football player.  But as a great football player, his greatest accomplishments and accolades he's received on the field are not even close to what makes him special.  The reason why is because Rod has never defined himself as a football player.  There is so much more to Rod Woodson than a football player.

Rich almost stole my presentation by talking about that earlier.  But it's the truth.  If Rod didn't even play football at all, he'd be the same exact person that he is right now.  And who is that person?  He's a person that while we put him up on a pedestal as a football player and as an athlete and celebrate his celebrity and look up to him, while we're doing that, in his mind he's like everybody else.  He's a guy that when we were at a restaurant and they told us that it was a 15-minute wait, after five minutes the manager comes out and he sees that it's Rod,  He said, “oh, Mr. Woodson come right in, we'll get a table for you and your buddy right away.”  And Rod said, “ no, no, we'll wait.”  These other people were ahead of us.  That's who Rod Woodson is.

Rod Woodson is the guy, the same guy that comes back to our hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana and establishes Woodson Charities to benefit the youth of Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  And for 15 years Rod put his time, his heart, his soul, and his money into helping the youth of Ft. Wayne and trying to benefit them.

During that 15 years, there were several times when I would talk to Rod -- I said, Rod, you know the NFL does this Man of the Year.  Or there's other recognitions that we can get.  Why don't we tell people what we're doing?  And he looked me right in the eye and he said, “That's not why I do it.  I don't do it for recognition.  I do it for the kids.”  That's who Rod Woodson is.  Rod Woodson is the man that is so humble and gracious that he will sum up throughout his career a great game that he had.  And at this point a Hall of Fame career by saying I just try my best and sometimes you get lucky.  That's who Rod Woodson is.  A humble man.

He's also a man that doesn't take himself so seriously that he can't laugh.  He's a fun-loving man, and a silly one, too.  One that will laugh so hard that he'll literally roll over on the floor and laugh.  That's who Rod Woodson is. 
 Rod is the guy that I'm trying to keep my composure up here, because he's promised me that if I break down up here he's never, ever going to let me forget it.

Rod Woodson has great football accomplishments as we all know.  And, again, the reason why we're here for this celebration.  But more than Rod Woodson as a Hall of Fame football player, Rod Woodson is a Hall of Fame person.  I'm proud that he's my friend, and I'm proud to introduce him as a part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 2009, Rod Woodson.

Rod Woodson: 
I tell you what.  He made me sound better than I am, I tell you that.  My kids won't say that I'm fun loving, because they always call me grumpy pants.  Come on, grumpy pants.  Laugh, smile.  But, you know, it's an honor.  I've been thinking about what I was going to say.  I worked for the NFL Network for the last five years.  I've seen it from afar.  Being on this stage is a whirlwind.  It's definitely an honor.  It's more today putting on the jacket and seeing your bust here.  It's about being a part of the team, the elite team of pro football.  I'm very honored and I humbly accept it.

But first I want to thank my Lord, Jesus Christ.  He's my savior.  He died for my sins and my salvation, and really without him I would not be here.  He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.  I mean, I lived in this world for a long time, and I truly thank him for guiding me for so long, and keeping me safe even when I didn't realize it was him.  I really thank him.  And without his mercy, without his love, and without his compassion for me as a person, as a human being, as one of his children, I wouldn't be here.  So I say, thank you Jesus.  To really experience this wonderful opportunity it's absolutely outstanding.  To the Hall of Fame staffers, you guys and you women are amazing. 

Since February you guys have treated us with class and dignity and honor.  And you've made it extremely special for me and my family.  I will be back in Canton as much as I can.  I say thank you. 

And congratulations to the other inductees.  To Bruce Smith who is going to be coming up.  Randall McDaniel, Mr. Wilson, congratulations.  To ‘Bullet” Bob Hayes and his family,  Congratulations.  To Derrick Thomas and his family, congratulations.  I think it's a wonderful class.  I really do.  But I'm more honored to be in this class.  Because I think these men are good people.  I think when they get out of football, when they got to know Derrick Tomas, he was a good guy.  I never got to meet Bob Hayes, but listening to everybody speak about him, he was a good man. So I'm honored to be in the '09 class with good men. 

You know, I stand up here in front of you as an individual.  But nothing alone has ever been done good.  Or excuse me, nothing great has ever been done alone.  An English clergyman once said, no man is an island entire of itself.  Every man is a piece of a continent.  A part of the main.  What he's talking about, he's talking about the body of Christ working together.  But also what he's talking about is that we're all a part of a team in some capacity throughout our lives.  We are all a piece of the puzzle.  We are not the puzzle itself. When we realize that, we're better people.

In my life, I'm here today to thank all the individuals who sacrifice themselves to put me here.  There are so many people who won't get recognized, and I think it's my obligation to give them thanks.  And I'm going to start with a great man who passed away 16 years ago. James Allen Woodson, my father.

He was a man of few words.  When he spoke, you had to listen.  He taught me how to work hard.  We lived in a small town.  He worked multiple jobs to give us everything we had. The one thing he taught me was don't take this life too serious.  You'll stretch yourself out.  But he also taught me to work hard.  Stay humble.  Never take yourself too seriously also.  And dad, I never told you how much I learned from you as a father.  And how proud I am to call you my dad.  Thank you.

My dad had a wife, her name is Linda Jo.  She's sitting right over there, my mother.  And she's kind of the complete opposite of my dad.  My dad didn't worry about anything.  My mom worried about everything.  And she worried about everybody she met.  From being, you know, our den mother in Boy Scouts, to taking us to swim practice every day.  To taking us to school.  She taught us as a family to be compassionate in love.  And really what she taught me is how much family truly means to you.  I think sometimes we take the people in our households for granted.  And one thing she taught me is not to take them for granted.  Tell them that you love them.  You never know when they're going to be gone.  So I love you, mom.  Thank you for teaching me that.

I'm the youngest boy of three.  I say only in age.  They would disagree.  But my brother, Joe, Jay he's the oldest.  My brother Jamie, we call him James Allen Woodson the second, nickname Jaws.  I truly appreciate you guys.  You guys taught me a lot in life.  Growing up, you guys took up for me when I did wrong.  I used to do things in the park down at the end of the street and run home and say man, that dude tried to beat me you up.  And they'd run down the street and they'd get in a fight with him.  Even though I did wrong.  So I say thank you guys.  I have not told you how much I love you, how much you mean to me.  And everything you've done for me.  Thank you very much.

You know, I grew up in a small town.  In the 1960's, and '70s, in a biracial relationship.  And it taught me a lot.  I think it taught me early in life that people will judge you by your skin color.  Not the content of your character.  And, society wants us to choose what you are so many times.  Are you black?  Are you white?  You know?  Are you democrat, are you Republican?  But remember one thing.  God made us all of one blood and one spirit.

You people who have mixed marriages tell your kids they do not have to choose what side they're on.  You know, we always want to choose, but we don't have to choose.  God made you what you are, remember that.

You know, I grew up in a small town in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  And I think it was a blessing for me to grow up in a small town.  I love Ft. Wayne.  A great place to grow up.  You know, I think it kept me rooted in reality, honestly.  I think it taught me what was truly real to me and important to me as a man and as a kid growing up.  I really want to thank Ft. Wayne for accepting me and embracing me throughout my lifetime.  Throughout my career, and accepting my family while we were there in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and while they're still there in Ft. Wayne for who we were as people.

If I'm going to talk about Ft. Wayne.  I've got to talk about the people who live there and have influenced me throughout my lifetime.  And the first man, he's a good man.  His name was Dave Rody.  That's my guy.  That's my guy over here.  He was my first ever coach.  Really taught me how to love football.  Really I started playing football because my brothers played.  But he taught me how to play football.  He made it fun, and he made it exciting for me to come back the following year.

This guy got married that same year.  A couple weeks later, as a matter of fact, my family had an emergency, had to go to Las Vegas.  He let me stay with him.  Him and his beautiful wife, Katie.  Stay in their home.  I broke his helicopter the first week.  I apologize, Coach, I still owe you a helicopter.  I do.  One day I'll give it back to you. 

But Coach, I want you to know one thing, every time my kids play a sport, I compare all youth coaches to you.  To make it fun, to make it enjoyable, to make the kid come back the following year.  I think that's what you coaches are about.  Thank you, Coach.

After I played for four years, I went to Blackhawk Junior High in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  I think every place you go you have somebody that can influence you.  And this guy, Jim Russo was a basketball coach in Ft. Wayne.  And Jim, I wasn't a good basketball player.  As a matter of fact, I was so bad I used to play at halftime on the comedy squad.  That's what they called it.  I'm telling you, that's what they called it.  But coach would always give me words of encouragement.  He would always tell me to keep fighting, keep getting better.  Don't worry about it.  Come back out next year.  You're going to keep getting better. So I want to say, coach, thank you very much for those kind words of encouragement.

I think so many times in society we fail to realize what one kind word can do to an individual and how it can change their lives forever.  So thank you, Coach.  After that, my junior high years, I thought I was big time.  Like all teenagers do.  I went to high school.  I went to the best high school in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Snider High School.  I'm glad we've got a couple of people here.

But at Snider, there was one man who truly influenced me.  His name was Jim Vernel.  He passed away years ago.  But we had a football coach, Mike Holly, and Mike, he was a tough coach, man.  He worked us hard.  Yelled at us a lot.  So I quit my sophomore year.  I quit football.  I was like, man, this is too much.  I'm out of here.  And Coach Grennall went up to me and said you can never quit.  You go back out.  You fight.  You love football, you keep doing it. 

So honestly without Coach Grennall coming back to me and influencing me he to come back to football, I would not be here today.  So I say thank you Coach Grennall for talking me into not being a quitter. 

My three years of Snider high school went fast.  Then my next family or home away from home was Purdue university.  Go Boilers, that's right.  Big Ten.  But honestly Leon Burnett, Ray Sherman, Ron Mimms, all the multiple coaches there taught me so much. All the Professors taught me so much.  They got me ready for the National Football League.  But more importantly, they got me ready for life.  And I want to thank Purdue University for everything it did for me in my four years of being there.  Thank you very much, Purdue. 

My four years of Purdue went quick, too.  It was 1987, Just like yesterday. In April, the NFL Draft came around.  I get a phone call from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney family.  And I know I saw Mr. Rooney around here somewhere earlier.  I just want to say thank you to the Rooney family.  Great, great family.  Arguably one of the best or the best sporting franchise in all of sports because of the family.

I want to say thank you for giving me ten wonderful years there.  To the Steeler nation thank you for accepting me.  For cheering me on.  And after I left, for booing me.  No, I'm serious for booing me.  Because you know, if you cheered me when I put on a Raiders uniform or a Ravens uniform, I think I would have lost a little respect for the Steeler nation.  So I'm glad you booed my, because you should. 

But, you know, I spent ten years there in Pittsburgh.  And I had some wonderful coaches, Chuck Noll and Tony Dungy.  And Tony Dungy, I believe will be a Hall of Fame coach.  I believe he will be here.  A guy named Rod Rust.  You know, a lot of people don't know about him unless you were a New England fan or Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  He was a defensive genius.  A guy that really went above what he should have done to his players.  He set me aside and challenged me as a player to learn more, to be more.  He took me into his office and used to break down on film of what offenses used to try to do to defenses, and how they'd try to basically scheme defenses.  The green light clicked on about a month later.  It was a lot easier playing in the National Football League for that.  So I say thank you, Rod Rust, for doing that for me.

Five years went by, Chuck Noll and his staff left.  And I got a new group.  Bill Cowher.  You know.  Outstanding coach.  And I've got to say thank you to Bill.  They talk about me coming back from the ACL in 1995 and the Super Bowl,  and it never would have happened if Bill hadn't left a spot open for me.  There is no coach today, and we have one right here in Dick Jauron, you know you wouldn't leave a spot open for any player.  For me. Okay.  I appreciate that.  To come back in a season once you have an ACL injury, they put you on IR.  But Bill saw something.  What he saw, I don't know.  But it gave me a great opportunity to play in the Super Bowl in ‘95.  Even though we lost to the Dallas Cowboys.  I say thank you to Bill Cowher. 

Dick LeBeau.  Man, I hope the voters, seriously, I hope the voters get it right.  First of all, he belongs in as a player, that is the first thing.  Secondly, if you don't want to put him as a player, you put him in as a contributor, because he did so much for the National Football League as a player and a coach for over 50 years.  He deserves it. 

So the voters are getting tired of hearing me get talking about Dick LeBeau, and putting him in the Hall of Fame.  Next, Dom Capers.  He was also there.  Wonderful coaches, all in Pittsburgh.  But all good things come to an end.  After ten years at Pittsburgh, and that storied franchise.  I went to another storied franchise.  The San Francisco 49ers.  It was amazing going from one storied franchise to the other.  And that was Eddie DeBartolo's last year as being the true owner of the 49ers.  But I saw in one year what everybody loved about Eddie D.  He was a good man.  He treated his team like his family.  So I want to say thank you to Eddie, and the San Francisco 49ers franchise for taking me into their family for one year and made us feel like its own.  Thank you.
Right after that I got a phone call from an old coach that coached in Pittsburgh,  Marvin Lewis.  He was coaching, he was a defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.  He called me and told me there's a young, talented football team back on the east coast that needs some leadership.  And I want to thank Marvin for giving me that call.  Because he was absolutely right.

I got in there and saw all the talent they had, and just had to learn.  Without Art Modell.  Old school owner.  And I hope again, the voters get this right, by putting Art Modell in the Hall of Fame.  He belongs there.  You can boo him because you disagree with him moving them.  But you can't disagree with what he did as an owner. 

Secondly, we had fun in Baltimore.  2000, arguably one of the best defenses ever to play in the National Football League.  And I want to thank the Ray Lewises, the Shannon Sharpes, all the individuals that were there that made my four years in Baltimore memorable.  Ozzie Newsome, thank you.  Steve, thank you for the continuous support of Raven Nation.  I love you. 

You know, I believe it fitting that I ended up as a Raider.  I started my football career as a Raider.  And I finished my football career as an Oakland Raider.  Al Davis, and the Oakland Raiders organization.  I want to say thank you.  For two years of really letting my childhood dream come true.  I always wanted to be a Raider as a little bitty kid putting on that little Raider uniform. 

I want to say thank you for treating me and my family extremely, extremely well.  Thank you, Al.  To the Steelers fans, you used to boo me, too, when I was a Raider. Real bad.  But I love you anyway.  You know, I see it fitting for me as a biracial mutt in life to be to be in the National Football League.  I played and every place that I played, I want to thank the National Football League for giving me so much in the 17 years that I probably could never repay.  Thank you, National Football League.  Thank you to the fans across the country for that.

After, many years in the National Football League.  That was my extended family.  I was retired.  I was trying to figure out what am I going to do?  And I could remember Chuck Noll always saying get on with your life's work.  You have to get on with your life's work.  I was trying to think, I'm going to drive my wife crazy for the next year or two.  Just sit around the house.  Couple weeks later I get a phone call it's from the NFL Network.  And I have to thank the NFL Network for giving me a great opportunity.  Steve Bornstein, Eric Weinberger.  I want to say thank you very, very much for giving me these last five years, wonderful years, as a matter of fact.  And putting up with me when I was pretty awful.  My first couple of years I was pretty bad.  I remember my kids going to YouTube, and I hate YouTube, man.  I can't stand that thing.  But it said I was the worst stuttering studio analyst in pro football. 

I was trying to get Steinbach out, and I couldn't get it out.  And I kept playing it over like a music video.  So thank you, kids, for bringing that to my attention.

But I really want to thank the NFL Network.  They are my extended family.  I love them.  I'm in debted to them forever. 

You know, God has gifted me with a great family I have not mentioned yet.  But God gave me five beautiful kids.  Marika, my oldest, the stubborn one.  I know she's a Woodson, because she takes after me, because I'm stubborn.  My oldest son who has a Dr. J hairdo.  He's bringing it back.  That's all I can say.  He's bringing it back.  My Tia, who is the middle, the mother hen of the group.  And Jaris, the fourth, he's a bundle of energy.  So I mean, he's the tough one, but we love him.  And we have our care giver, Nemia, our youngest.  And I want to say I am so proud to call you my children, I thank you and I love you. 

Well, these five kids have to have a mother.  And they have a good one.  They have a real good one.  Nikki Michelle, wonderful woman.  She has taught me so much.  She's been with me through the good, the bad and the ugly.  A person that's really taught me a lot about compassion and mercy.  Because I was all about true.  I had no compassion and mercy in me when I first met her.  And over the years, the 17 years really, almost 20 years we've been together, I say thank you, I love you with all my heart.  And I love you for 17 years of this.

There are three men who influenced my life spiritually.  I think there are no accidents that happen in this world.  These three men who have done a lot for me.  And there is a phrase I think fits these individuals.  What a man believes determines how he lives.  And how he lives reveals most clearly what he believes regardless of what he says.  These three men, they lived it, they talked it.  Everything that they said they did, everything they asked me over the years, they did.  Eugene Parker, I say thank you.  He was my agent for 17 years in the National Football League.  But more so a mentor.  He always will call me and say did you answer that phone call yet?  Did you answer that phone call yet?  Well, Gene, I can tell you I answered the phone call.  I appreciate it.  And I just want to ask you, do you believe me now?  Inside joke.  Don't worry about it.

Next, Rodney Harrison.  He's the chaplain over at the Baltimore Ravens.  Man, he influenced me greatly.  He was leading me down the right path.  Secondly Napoleon Kaufman.  Played in the National Football League.  Senior pastor at the well, my church family back in Pleasanton, California.  I want to say thank you to both of them.  To keep being positive and doing the right things for us as men of God. 
As I look back on the teams that I've faced and been a part of over the years, there is one common denominator about all those teams.  I choose to be a part of a team, we have to live under the rules and the guides.  If you want that team to function as one, we have to be obedient to the rules and regulation.

So I will leave you today to talk about choices or choice.  Remember to choose or the choices you make in our lives will build our destinies that we make.  Choices made throughout our lives were also determine our destiny.  Matthew 22:14, many are called, few are chosen.  God has given us a gift to choose.  It's a power that we normally don't talk about.  I leave you today with these thoughts.  Choose.  Choose to love rather than hate.  Choose to create rather than to destroy.  Choose to persevere rather than quit.  Choose to praise rather than gossip.  Choose to heal rather than wound.  Choose to pray, rather than curse.  Choose to live, rather than die.  Choose Jesus Christ over the world.  God bless you.