Talking safeties past, present and future with Devin McCourty and Darren Woodson

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins, December 24, 2011.

Defensive back Darren Woodson of the Dallas Cowboys looks into the backfield in the Pittsburgh Steelers 15-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on 08/21/2003. ©James D. Smith/NFL Photos

(Devin McCourty photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
(Darren Woodson photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Talk of Fame Network

Although the safety position has been all but ignored by Hall-of-Fame voters, its significance in today’s pass-happy NFL is beyond debate. With multiple tight end formations and three or four wide-receiver sets the rage, today’s safety faces constant demands both in the passing game and in run defense.

Yet the Hall of Fame hasn’t admitted a pure safety in 18 years, when all-time interception leader Paul Krause was finally inducted. And the last pure Hall-of-Fame safety to play in an NFL game was Ken Houston 35 years ago, back in 1980.

So this week our Talk of Fame Network hosts, Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge, explore both the demands of the position and what the future may hold for it with two of the game’s best: Hall of Fame nominee Darren Woodson and New England Patriots’ Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty.

Woodson was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion for the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, retiring after 12 seasons as Dallas’ all-time leading tackler. He was also among the first wave of cover safeties, often lining up on the slot receiver. It’s no surprise that type of versatility is what Woodson values most in a safety.

“Anyone can line up in the middle of the field,’’ said Woodson. “It’s the safety who can cover, who can play at the line and blitz and make things happen I look for. I look for a guy who can transcend.’’

Certainly Woodson did, finishing his career with 23 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, 11 sacks and three Super Bowl rings. When he thinks back to those championships, he doesn’t hesitate when asked to name the best of those teams.

“Our 1992-93 team was as good as any team that ever won the Super Bowl,’’ Woodson said. “It’s not even close. The ’95 (Super Bowl) team wasn’t in the same ballpark of our 1992-93 team. Losing wasn’t an option.’’

Devin McCourty feels the same way about the Patriots, for whom he’s started since first arriving in 2010. A Pro Bowl cornerback as a rookie, he was switched to his more natural safety position after two-and-a-half seasons and returned to the Pro Bowl last year after winning his first Super Bowl championship.

When told how long it had been since a pure safety was elected to the Hall, McCourty was surprised but quickly pointed out, “A lot of our job has to do with putting other people into position to make plays. When you do things like that it doesn’t get noticed by anyone watching. That won’t really get you in the Hall of Fame.’’

What will, McCourty said, are the kind of plays made by his favorite safety, Ed Reed. McCourty believes if someone like Woodson doesn’t beat him to it, Reed and the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu will break through the safety ceiling at the Hall … and perhaps open the door for others like himself.

“I don’t know who is actually the best but obviously Ed Reed’s career is really like no other as far as his numbers and everything he was able to do on the field,’’ McCourty said.

“Tom (Brady) talks about how he never really knew where (Reed) was going to be. He’d make plays he didn’t really expect. He studied enough film to know exactly where he needed to be.’’

In the opinion of McCourty that place will eventually be Canton.

Our threesome also debates Reed’s Hall-of-Fame credentials as well as those of Steve Atwater, John Lynch, Woodson, Polamalu and several other safeties, including one Clark thought was a singer and another who was the greatest in the history of the AFL. They handicap the field to give you a preview of what might be coming at the Hall for a long overlooked position.

Rick, Ron and Clark also debate the issues of the week, including which of the undefeated teams may have a chance to run the table and which, if any, are living on borrowed time. Plus, they take an in-depth look at the collapse of the 49ers and the struggles of their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, with CSN Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco, a long-time 49er watcher.

But these days you can’t look at the Bay Area without also looking at the resurgent Oakland Raiders, so each wades in on whether they’re really or simply a mirage.

In the weekly “Dr. Data” segment, Rick comes up with an astounding fact about the consequences of a quarterback passing for 300 yards or throwing at least 50 times in a game. Gosselin explains why it’s a losing strategy … with the exception of one quarterback whose record when throwing that often is astounding.

In Ron’s “Borges or Bogus’’ segment, he lambastes the Saints-Giants passing festival that led to 861 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and more huddles by the officials than by the teams. Borges also states the Hall-of-Fame case for the only defensive lineman to anchor TWO Fearsome Foursomes, former Detroit Lion and Los Angeles Ram defensive tackle Roger Brown. Let him explain to you why the life-sized statue Brown has of Bart Starr in one of his Virginia restaurants should be lying on its back.

Last week being Election Week around the country, the boys also cast their votes for their choices as the most deserving head coach, assistant, quarterback and defensive player eligible for senior committee nomination for the Hall. Some of their choices – like Packers’ quarterback Cecil Isbell – will surprise you.

You can hear all that and more each week on 85 radio stations around the country as well as with the TuneIn app, on iTunes podcast or by going to their website,

Listen now!

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