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He played only four years with the Ravens, but when Rod Woodson enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight, he'll be reopening the door for Baltimore.

A defensive back, Woodson is the first Ravens player to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. There, he joins 11 members of the Baltimore Colts, the last of whom - former coach Don Shula - was inducted in 1997.

One year later, Woodson joined the Ravens, where he shored up the defense and helped lead them to a Super Bowl victory in January 2001.

On Friday, Woodson sat at a gala luncheon alongside Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager and a Hall of Famer himself, and reflected on the finality of his election.

"Being enshrined in the Hall means you can't be kicked out, cut or traded," Woodson, 44, said. "Even when you're dead, you're still a Hall of Famer."

And today, when he accepts his plaque, the man who spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers will be wearing the Super Bowl ring he earned as a Raven.

"There's a place in my heart for every team that I played for," Woodson said. "All four of those places were a part of me. But it's a huge honor to be the first Hall of Famer to have donned a Ravens uniform.

"I was proud to represent that team for four years, and I'm sure that I'll be joined in the near future by J.O. [recently retired lineman Jonathan Ogden]. Also, five years after he gets tired of playing football, [linebacker] Ray Lewis will be here, too."

Six times first-team All Pro during a 17-year career, Woodson joined Baltimore as a 33-year-old free agent after spending 10 years in Pittsburgh and one in San Francisco. Here, he settled the team's young defense and mentored its rising stars.

Woodson also agreed to shift from cornerback to safety, a change that, in effect, made him the eyes of a unit that excelled during the 2000 season. Four shutouts, a league-record 165 points allowed.

"In that one year, we were arguably the best defense in NFL history," Woodson said. The Super Bowl was a walkover, a 34-7 defeat of the New York Giants.

"We knew that by the fourth quarter of that game, it was over," he said. "We were sitting on the sidelines joking, 'My ring size is a 12.' "

In retrospect, Woodson said: "My journey was to go to Baltimore and become a Raven. My destiny was set. All I had to do was to say 'yes' when [defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis phoned to ask if I'd like to play there - and get the blessing of [owner] Art Modell."

A victim of the club's salary cap, Woodson was released after the 2001 season but landed in Oakland and played two more years. Currently, the former Purdue star serves as a football analyst on "NFL Total Access" for the NFL Network.

One of six former greats being honored today, Woodson remains the league's career leader for interception return yardage (1,483) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (12). Five of those TDs came while he was with the Ravens, a team record he shares with several players.

By the eve of his induction, Woodson had received hundreds of plaudits, including those from former Ravens teammates Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe, who failed to make the cut for the Hall of Fame this year.

Said former Steelers teammate Tunch Ilkin, a longtime NFL radio and TV analyst: "Rod was probably the best athlete I've seen in the NFL. He could rush the passer as a blitzer and come up with multiple sacks, and he could make a pick and go coast-to-coast with it. He was just phenomenal, with a tremendous work ethic. He'd play a great game on Sunday, and he'd be running sprints on the treadmill on Monday."

Woodson said: "The last few days have been a blur. But the big thing is, I'm all done with my speech. Hopefully, I can deliver it halfway decent."

From a hand bearing a Super Bowl ring.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Hall of Fame Class of 2009

* Bob Hayes, WR

1965-1974 Cowboys, 1975 49ers

Of note: : Named first- or second-team All-NFL four times.

* Randall McDaniel, G

1988-1999 Vikings, 2000-2001 Buccaneers

Of note: : Selected for record 12 straight Pro Bowls (1990-2001).

* Bruce Smith, DE

1985-1999 Bills, 2000-2003 Redskins

Of note: : His 200 sacks are NFL record.

* Derrick Thomas, LB

1989-1999 Chiefs

Of note: : Recorded NFL- record seven sacks in one game in 1990.

* Ralph Wilson Jr., owner

1960-present Bills

Of note: : Bills appeared in four straight Super Bowls during his tenure.

* Rod Woodson, CB-S-KR

1987-1996 Steelers, 1997 49ers, 1998-2001 Ravens, 2002-2003 Raiders

Of note: : Holds NFL record for most interceptions returned for touchdown (12).

Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame


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