Donnell Woolford, Steelers Cornerback, 1997-1998
First, can you let readers know about the Greater Chicago Flag Football League and other post-NFL endeavors? How did you get started in these and why?
The Greater Chicago Football League is an Organization that is solely interested in building self-esteem among its players. I am also very actively involved with The Boys and Girls Club. I became a part of these Organizations because I have a passion for children and want to give them the same opportunities I was given by The Boys and Girls Club as a youth.
Did the NFL give you any post-NFL career help/guidance – and did you find it useful as you transitioned from the game to non-NFL life?
I had no ” Post NFL Guidance, therefore this transition was a little difficult for me.
You were a first round pick of the Bears in ’89. Were you surprised to go so high (11th overall) and how was playing in Chicago different from playing in Pittsburgh when you signed with the Steelers in ’97?
Given my stats, I had hoped to be considered the number one Cornerback, but I was second. Deion Sanders was in first place. Even though I replaced Rod Woodson, Pittsburgh had the best fans in The NFL.
What made you decide to sign with the Steelers in free agency in ’97 – who else was courting you and why did you ultimately choose Pittsburgh?
I grew up watching The Steelers. Mr. Rooney and The Steelers are a very prestigious organization. The other team that tried to recruit me was The Washington Redskins.
How difficult was that Pittsburgh defense to play for versus Chicago’s - and how exactly did your role differ versus how the Bears played defense?
The Steelers has the best defense and were very aggressive. The Bears’ Defense was more of an ” Attacking” style of play.
What Steelers players and coaches helped mentor you/introduce you to the team as a new Steeler and how did they do so?
Coach Tim Lewis was always encouraging me.
Delton Hall (former Clemson Teammate, whom had already retired from The Steelers when I arrived in Pittsburgh) assisted me with this transition by assisting me helping me to adjust to moving from one city to another and finding housing. Others were: Nolan Harrison; Levon Kirkland; Greg Lloyd,Sr; Jerome Bettis and Carnell Lake.
My teammates were very supportive of me and welcomed me to the team and the city.
The defensive backfield was pretty deep then – with Lake, Scott, Flowers, Bell, Fuller and others. How did all of you get along and was it frustrating vying for playing time? How was that resolved amongst all of you?
Everyone played their role and did so as a team. I did get an opportunity to ” Start”.
Who were the team leaders on those Steelers teams you played for -and how did they lead. Any examples?
On the Offense: Yancey Thigpen and Dermontti Dawson. On the defense: Levon Kirkland and Darren Perry. They were team leaders on and off the field.
Humor plays such a large part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the bigger jokesters on those teams – any examples of how so and the funny things that occurred between your teammates?
Chris “Chunky” Oldham and Lee Flowers. They were always making jokes.
In ’98 the team went through a number of changes and you ended up in Carolina. How difficult was that for you, and how did they let you know about the changes…?
The team wanted a ” younger player” and it was a business decision. Going to Carolina allowed the chance to play for my home state.
What are your favorite memories as a Steeler and as an NFL player?
As a player for The Steelers: The Opportunity to play for Coach Bill Cowher and wearing the ” Black and Gold” Uniform. As an NFL player: being drafted by The Chicago Bears and playing for Coach Mike Ditka.
If you could impart some wisdom to young NFL players today, what would you tell them after having played in the NFL for over ten ears?
To respect yourself and your teammates at ALL TIMES so that you can continue that relationship with your teammates after your career.
*** You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great**
Any last thoughts for readers?
*** Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do***