safety, who ended his career as the team's all-time leader in tackles
with 1,350 stops in his prolific career, has missed the entire 2004
season after undergoing back surgery.
The last link to the team's Super Bowl run in the early 1990s opened
his press conference by saying he didn't want to talk about Super Bowls
(he played in three) or Pro Bowls (five). Instead, he wanted to talk
about the relationships he forged throughout his stellar career.
The first people he thanked were his wife, Julie, his three children
(during his time away from the team while recovering from back surgery
this year, he said "these three have ran me ragged"), his mother and
his in-laws. He thanked Dallas owner Jerry Jones and his family, his
coaches, teammates, countless team personnel, his agent, his financial
advisors, the medical personnel who have helped him survive the rigors
of his profession and the minister at his church.
"It's special to represent the best organization in the world -- sports
.... whatever," Woodson said. "It's special to put that helmet on."
The accolades poured in.
Jones called him "unselfish, reliable and dependable -- a team player
first and a team player always."
Former coach Jimmy Johnson, in a statement released through the team's
public relations department, said "you win with guys like (Woodson)."
"Darren was a player who could hit, tackle and take charge of a
secondary," Johnson said. "He did all those things with authority. He
made his presence known on the football field, but played within the
scheme and played smart. He was a rookie on a defense that was No. 1 in
the NFL in 1992, and the next year he became a starter. The league's
No. 1 defense got better in 1993. He's a solid person, who was a very
The players in attendance at the press conference were a "Who's who" of
players from the Cowboys glory years from a year ago. Troy Aikman,
Daryl Johnston, Kevin Smith, Charles Haley, Chad Hennings and Russell
Maryland were among those who turned out to bid farewell to their
friend and former teammate.
"When he joined us, we were coming off a playoff berth the year
before," Aikman said. "He was just coming out of college, where he was
a linebacker, but it was clear what kind of athlete he was. I compared
him a lot with Carnell Lake, who played with me at UCLA. He was a
linebacker who returned kicks, which is really unusual."
Woodson's willingness to take on unusual combinations of roles, is
further evidence of his singular work ethic and team-first attitude,
according to Jones. Jones said that he "occasionally" has questioned
his coaches over the years, often because Woodson put his health on the
line by covering kicks for his entire career.
The 2004 Dallas defense has missed Woodson for many reasons: his
tackling, his experience, his knowledge and because with him out, the
Cowboys have had to alter the role of Roy Williams. For all of his
ability -- which is considerable -- his intelligence and willingness to
learn were among the qualities that impressed teammates.
"I remember when he was a rookie," Maryland said. "He had to feel his
way. We knew he was a great athlete, but he had to feel his way. Coach
Johnson would get after him, and you could see him mature so fast. That
showed he was serious."
But perhaps more than anything, Woodson's toughness and character were
his signature traits.
"I know what it's like to wake up every day in pain, and I don't wish
that on anyone," Haley said. "Darren was a warrior, a Zulu. When he
said to you (media) guys that whenever he put on that helmet, he played
hard -- he did.
"He's a guy you want to be like -- on and off the field."