Versatile defensive back Rod Woodson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday, becoming the first former Raven to receive the honor.
Known for his speed and big-play ability, Woodson played four of his 17 seasons with the Ravens (1998-2001). The sage leader on the Ravens' record-setting defense, he won his only Super Bowl with the Ravens in January 2001 in Tampa.
"I'm still pinching myself a little bit," Woodson said. "It's so surreal. I'm going to take it slowly and soak all of this in. Right now, it hasn't hit me. Maybe when I get fitted for the jacket, it will."
Woodson's celebration was bittersweet because Shannon Sharpe, his close friend and former Ravens teammate, did not make the cut. He likely will be a finalist again next year.
Woodson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio, with career sacks leader Bruce Smith; longtime Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr.; late Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas; former Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel; and the late Bob Hayes, a standout wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.
Woodson and Smith made the Hall in their first years of eligibility. Since 1990, Woodson is just the third defensive back to be elected in his first year. Ronnie Lott and Darrell Green were the others.
"I've always been a big fan of Rod," Smith said. "Whenever we played Pittsburgh, one thing I said: 'Don't ever throw the ball near Rod Woodson. He's going to come down with it.' "
Woodson was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and was named to the league's 1990s All-Decade team. He is the career leader in interception returns for touchdowns with 12.
Woodson, who is primarily known as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers (he played with them for the first 10 seasons of his career), was key in turning around the Ravens from a perennial loser to a championship team.
Woodson also made a pivotal career move with the Ravens in 1999. After being one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for 12 years, he switched to safety with great success. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1999 with the Ravens and 2002 with the Oakland Raiders.
But Woodson didn't dwell on the significance of becoming the first ex-Raven to be elected.
"I represent the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and the Oakland Raiders," Woodson said. "It meant a lot to me that teams wanted me."
Woodson watched the Hall of Fame announcement from his hotel room. When the names of inductees were read - his was the last - he just stared at the television screen. There was no hint of emotion.
"I was stunned. All I kept thinking was they said the names alphabetically and I didn't hear Shannon's name," Woodson said. "Then it hit me. They said my name.
"I'm happy, but my heart still goes out to Shannon. I thought he was a lock."
When Sharpe retired in 2003, he finished as the all-time leader in catches (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62) by a tight end.
He made the first cutdown yesterday from 15 finalists to 10. But he was left out of the final round of five.
During yesterday's meeting of 44 Hall of Fame selectors (which is composed of sportswriters and broadcasters), no one voiced opposition about Sharpe. It essentially came down to the rule that no more than five modern-era players can be elected in a year.
Sharpe was not at yesterday's announcement, but he knew there was a strong possibility he would not make the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
"The Hall of Fame would be the final validation of my 14-year career," Sharpe said Wednesday. "[But] I'm not going to let whether I get in on the first ballot, second ballot or third ballot take away [from] what I was able to accomplish in 14 years. Those numbers, those championships, those Pro Bowls and the camaraderie that I've had can't be taken away."
Unlike Sharpe, it was presumed that Woodson would make it on the first ballot. Still, Woodson said he felt humbled that he will join an elite group of football greats.
"Including this class, it's 253 guys ever [in the Hall] - that's truly amazing to me," Woodson said. "This is a great honor."
headed for canton
* BOB HAYES, WR
NFL career: 1965-1974 Cowboys, 1975 49ers
Notable: Four times he was named first- or second-team All-NFL.
* RANDALL MCDANIEL, G
NFL career: 1988-1999 Vikings, 2000-2001 Buccaneers
Notable: He was selected for a record 12 straight Pro Bowls (1990-2001).
* BRUCE SMITH, DE
NFL career: 1985-1999 Bills, 2000-2003 Redskins
Notable: His 200 sacks are an NFL record.
* DERRICK THOMAS, LB
NFL career: 1989-1999 Chiefs
Notable: In 1990, he recorded an NFL- record seven sacks in one game.
* RALPH WILSON JR., OWNER
NFL career: 1960-present Bills
Notable: During his tenure as owner, the Bills appeared in four straight Super Bowls.
* ROD WOODSON, CB-S-KR
NFL career: 1987-1996 Steelers, 1997 49ers, 1998-2001 Ravens, 2002-2003 Raiders
Notable: He holds the NFL record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown (12).
Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame