Woodson enjoys time at festival

Posted: May 6, 2013

The Winchester Star

Co-Sports Marshal Rod Woodson autographs a Terrible Towel for Steeler fan Charles Feathers. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., Rod Woodson had the Three Rivers Festival to look forward to every year, so he knows firsthand of the importance communities place in their annual celebrations.

But even Woodson had to admit that he’d never seen anything on the scale of the 86th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

“Every community has some type of festival every year, but this a bigger and probably better festival than most because they put more into it,” said Woodson before the Wells Fargo Sports Breakfast Saturday morning. “It’s a great thing to see.”

That was probably the same sentiment the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens fans in attendance had in getting see one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play the game.

An 11-time Pro Bowler who spent 10 years with the Steelers before helping the Ravens win their first Super Bowl in 2001, Woodson, who served as co-sports masrshal with NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, still looks like he could hold his own on the football field, even if the game has changed quite a bit since he last strapped on a helmet.

“I think it’s a different era with the spread, you’re playing more in space, you’ve got to be a better tackler,” Woodson said. “But it would have been fun playing against a lot of the young guys.”

Odds are Woodson would have been able to teach them a thing or two.

A two-time All-American at Purdue, Woodson bypassed a chance to run at the Olympic Trials — he qualified in the 110-meter hurdles in 1984 — to pursue an NFL career, a move that fans in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, as well as Oakland and San Francisco are happy he made.

Woodson was one of the best cornerbacks in the game during his time in Pittsburgh, loved to the point that a banner stating, “Rod is God” hung for years at Three Rivers Stadium, and successfully transitioned to safety after signing with the 49ers in free agency.

With a 71 career interceptions to go along with 32 fumbles recoveries, the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said he’s glad to see players on the defensive side of the ball getting the benefit of some of the new rule changes in today’s game.

“I think what all defensive players always ask for is an even playing field, and they got that somewhat. Running backs can’t come outside the tackle box and lower [their] helmet against you, so I think that’s more even,” said Woodson about the new rule that will go into effect this season. “[Running backs] don’t like it, but you have to remember we really don’t like the five-yard chuck rule either.”

Woodson said that while he disagrees with players who lunge with their helmets, he doesn’t believe helmet-to-helmet hits can ever be fully erased from the game, although he does understand the moves by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to try and make the game safer.

After spending time as an analyst for NBC and Big Ten Network, Woodson, who lives in California with his family, said he’s getting more into radio these days.

“I’ve been doing a lot more radio than anything else and I like radio,” Woodson said. “I like that I can come in my sweats and I can talk for three hours and I can leave. I don’t have to be in a suit and tie to talk sports. I really enjoy it.”

Woodson said he was happy to see the Ravens win the Super Bowl in February, but he knows the upcoming season will test the organization as it tries to replace a number of its star players.

“I think the real coaching will come into play this year because when you lose a Ray Lewis — you lose an Ed Reed, it’s hard to replace those guys,” Woodson said. “When you win a Super Bowl … teams are going to come in and try to take players away from you. They want a piece of it.”

Woodson went through the same thing after winning Super Bowl XXXV in Baltimore, eventually landing in Oakland where he finished out his career, but now he’s enjoying his time off the field, and attending events like The Bloom.

“I think it’s what really makes America what it is, because every little town has it’s own little way of doing things and it’s great to come and see,” Woodson said. “Talking to everybody about the kids and community and how it is here, everybody’s been so kind to me since I’ve been here. It’s a great place to be.”

— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at  ktrudgeon@winchesterstar.com

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