Considered by most to be past his prime, he arrived in Baltimore, rejuvenated the ballclub and led his team to a championship. Frank Robinson did it for the Orioles. Rod Woodson did it for the Ravens.
"Nobody told me it was my job to be a mentor," said Woodson, a 33-year-old cornerback when he joined the Ravens in 1998. "But I knew that the young talent needed to be cultivated, to learn what it takes to be a pro both on and off the field."
So Woodson passed out wisdom while picking off passes. The strategy worked. In the 2000 season, the club won the Super Bowl.
He left the Ravens after four seasons, a victim of the salary cap, and retired in 2004. Woodson now serves as a football analyst on NFL Total Access, an hour-long show filled with game highlights and previews that airs Monday through Saturday on the NFL Network.
Woodson, 42, lives in Pleasanton, Calif., with his wife, five children and the frailties brought on by a 17-year career.
"If I forget to do my [rehabiltation] exercises, my wife has to put my socks on for me," he said. "That's not a bad thing. It brings us closer together."
Last week, on the job, he interviewed Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, an exchange that brought back memories for Woodson.
"When I came to Baltimore, the club put my locker between those of [rising stars] Lewis and Peter Boulware," Woodson said. The Ravens hoped his experience (11 Pro Bowls) would rub off.
While teammates noted his maturity, they also poked fun at his age.
"Whenever I walked in, Ray and Peter hollered, 'We're sleeping with the enemy - the coach is in the room,' " Woodson said.
Looking back, the Super Bowl season seems almost unreal, Woodson said. Four shutouts. A league-record 165 points allowed.
"In that one given year, we were arguably the best defense in NFL history," he said. "The downside is that we were only together for one season."
Woodson believes the Ravens would have repeated in 2001 had the front office not messed with team chemistry.
"Trent Dilfer was a gutsy quarterback whose gritty mindset fit that team perfectly," Woodson said. "One hundred percent of the players wanted him back."
Instead, the Ravens snubbed Dilfer and signed the flashier Elvis Grbac.
"That hurt," Woodson said.
• With the Ravens: 1998-2001.
• Other teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, 1987-96; San Francisco 49ers, 1997; Oakland Raiders, 2002-03.
• Current job: Football analyst for NFL Total Access on NFL Network; owns three car dealerships in Pittsburgh and a motorcycle dealership in hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind.
• Career statistics: 71 interceptions, 32 fumble recoveries, 2,362 punt return yards and 15 touchdowns. NFL career leader in interception TDs (12) and interception return yards (1,483).
• Fun fact No. 1: Only NFL player to make Pro Bowl in different years as a cornerback, safety and kick return specialist.
• Fun fact No. 2: Currently studying for the ministry at his Christian church, The Well, in Dublin, Calif.
• College: Purdue University, where he qualified for 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100-meter hurdles.
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