Brian Urlacher earlier this year said he was disappointed that former Dallas safety Darren Woodson isn’t joining him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, but I’m not. I’m disappointed Darren Woodson hasn’t been discussed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ever. And that makes no sense.
The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years in the 1990s, with five players from those three teams in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. OK, that’s understandable. But this isn’t: All but one are on offense (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Larry Allen), with Charles Haley the exception.
So what? So in 1992, the Cowboys led the league in total defense. In 1993, they led it in fewest points allowed. In 1994, they led it in total defense again. And one year later they were third in points allowed.
Now, let me get this straight: You’re telling me there’s not more than one defensive player from those four teams that deserves to be discussed as a finalist? Please. You know better. There is, and his name is Darren Woodson.
“He was the guy who made that defense go,” Urlacher said on 105.3 the Fan in Dallas. “Darren Woodson, to me, was a beast. My favorite player of all time.”
Darren Woodson was such a dominant safety that he retired as the Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler, was a five-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro and a three-time Super Bowl champion. But he was more than a hard hitter who made a lot of stops. He was one of the game’s first cover safeties, blanketing slot receivers for championship teams — so good that Sports Illustrated in 1994 described him as “the most productive player on the best defense in the NFL.”
In word, he was versatile. And when we interviewed him on the Talk of Fame Network, he cited “versatility” as the first trait that Hall-of-Fame voters should be looking for in their safety candidates.
“Anyone can play 14 yards back in Cover-Two,” Woodson said. “Anyone can play in the middle of the field, and line up there and not have to have any coverage responsibility. But I would say a safety who can cover … a safety who can come up and tackle … and a safety who can blitz around the line of scrimmage and make plays (is what makes a Hall of Famer).”
Hmmm, sounds a lot like Darren Woodson.
A linebacker in college, he was converted to safety in the pros and was an immediate success — with over 1,000 tackles, 23 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles and 11 sacks in his 12-year career. He could play up. He could play back. It didn’t matter. He was always a factor, which is why the Cowboys inducted him into their Ring of Honor in 2015.
But Hall-of-Fame voters haven’t budged. Not yet, they haven’t. Yes, Woodson has been a semifinalist. In fact, he’s been a semifinalist twice. But he’s never been one of the 15 finalists discussed by selectors, and given his success and the success of the teams on which he played, that doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
Yet the odds aren’t with him. First of all, voters historically haven been slow to act on safeties, though two have been inducted (senior nominee Kenny Easley and Brian Dawkins) the past two years. Second, there’s a line of really good ones either in the queue or on their way — with John Lynch, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu the most noteworthy. And third, Woodson was not an all-decade choice.
Granted, that shouldn’t keep him out (heck, Lynch wasn’t one, either), but it does reduce his chances when you consider that LeRoy Butler and Steve Atwater — first-team safeties on the 1990s’ all-decade team — can barely get a sniff. Butler has been a semifinalist just once and Atwater a finalist once.
So where does that leave Darren Woodson? On the outside looking in, that’s where.
Look, I don’t know how you sort these guys out, but Butler, Atwater and Woodson should have their cases heard by voters … and only one of them has. I mean, if you’re considered the best at your position for a decade, shouldn’t that mean something? And if you were the defensive leader on a team that won three Super Bowls in four years and went to the conference championship game all four seasons, shouldn’t that mean something, too?
I think it should. So let’s start talking about Darren Woodson.