Rick Woods, Steelers Safety, 1982-1986
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I sell consulting services for financial and managed services providers. We do compliance work on financial institutions related to safeguarding data, PCI compliance, hacking into networks to test them. We then implement policy procedures for them and bring in engineers to evaluate business impact. I have two partners who focus on compliance and regulatory issues – I focus mostly on sales.
How did you get involved in the business?
When I was traded to Tampa bay I had a neighbor who was president of a company that catered to banks. They did transaction processing. He launched a new division and really became the father of credit card enhancements.
I spent four-five years there and sold credit card processing services. I’ve been in the business now since 1989 and love it.
What was life as a rookie? You were drafted in 1982, right as the Steelers dynasty was starting to take a different turn. What did you notice about the team then?
I was starry-eyed as a rookie walking around there and didn’t notice much because of that.
It was the time when players were transitioning to year-round workouts and coming into camp in top shape. It became expected but it wasn’t the case for some guys. They released a lot of those guys my rookie year. They kept seven or eight rookies that year which speaks to the transition itself.
Were there concerns about the direction of the team?
We were still optimistic. We had many of the core group still there – Blount, Lambert, Shell, Webster, and of course Chuck. We still had those guys to lead us.
One thing about the team – it’s hard to describe. The players had a clear set of expectations on and off the field. If you weren’t physical, frankly they’d weed you out. The formula has worked forever. Every team we faced knew that and had to prepare for that.
Do you think they saw you as that kind of player?
I do think they looked at me as a certain kind of player that fit into that mold, for some reason. Chuck said the film doesn’t lie. You can have 99 great plays, but you dread that one bad play watching film in front of your peers. You just didn’t want to let everyone down.
Who helped mentor you in your rookie year and took you under their wing?
Mel Blount. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He used to drive the rookies around in I think a ’36 Dodge – it was pristine. he’d have these fatherly talks with us.
What did he tell you?
He talked a lot about the importance of making a name for yourself. That stuff was really important to him - how important your name is to you.
Donnie Shell – pound for pound there was not a tougher player and he wasn’t going to let you not do it the same way.
Woodruff was my roommate for a few seasons. He was a real calming influence.
Lot’s of joking around on those teams?
Oh yeah. One of my favorite ones….you had to be careful shampooing your hair. The guy next to you would pee on your leg when you did if you weren’t watching. One time tight end Frankie Wilson peed on Gary Dunn. Gary opened his eyes and chased Frankie into the bathroom stall and Frankie locked himself in the stall. Well, and this is the truth – Gary could pee twenty feet. So he peed over the top of the partition and drenched Frankie (laughing).
Who were some of the toughest guys you faced as a Steeler?
There was a tandem of backs in Baltimore then – McMillan and Dickey. They were 245 pounds running 4.5′s before anyone was really doing that.
I remember voting for the Pro Bowl. Everyone voted for Dickerson at running back – he had 2,000 yards that season. But there was this one guy who played for Buffalo - last name Bell – who just shredded us. Chuck called us idiots for not voting for that guy when we held Dickerson to under 50 yards.
Riggins was also a brute in his day.
You were nicknamed the “Riverboat Gambler” in college for not fair-catching balls as a punt returner, What instilled that excitement for you on special teams?
You either love it or hate it. I was a sophomore in college and the returner was a senior who really didn’t like returning punts. He got hurt so I get the chance to do it. It was really thrilling.
As a safety, did you see yourself more of a ballhawk with those 13 interceptions, or a physical player?
It takes you a while to realize you have to be a scheme player first and know when to take calculated risks within the scheme – when to jump passes. As a safety you have to be extra conservative – and I was also used in the running game a lot.
I remember playing Chicago in ’85. Malone was the quarterback – which didn’t help a lot either. We were down by 14 points, and with Mark in there that was really the game. They were running Walter (Payton) the rest of the game. I’d meet him about three yards downfield and took a beating each time (laughing). It happened about seven or eight times in a row – he was picking me up. It was really rotten….
You couldn’t freelance really. I wasn’t a ballhawk - I probably dropped thirteen interceptions too. Dave Camp was my defensive back coach my first two years in college and John Fox my second two years. Both were technique guys. John used to talk about ego plays. In the seconds before yoo are about to make a play and you think about it and the seconds after, when you mess it up and the ball bounces off your facemask.
What do you think of today’s NFL?
It’s really odd. We were on the verge of free agency then but I just missed that era. We had the USFL and that brought some extra money for players i the NFL.
There’s just lots of turnover in the NFL. The Steelers try to keep their core together and do a good job. But there is a lot of whore out there. People just going where the money is. I think you lose the incentive as a team without that special character and passion for the game.
I know what Lambert would say. But guys are getting so big so fast now – a 225 pounder is doing today what a 190 pound guy used to do. I know a lot of guys that have awful concussion symptoms still. Walter Abercrombie has a hard time remembering things.
I’m in good shape at least. I lucked out.