Upon leaving Auburn University, Chris Woods perhaps had something in common with his friend, Bo Jackson. Neither one was ready for the big leagues.
But whereas Woods went to Canada to play professional football--"Like a guy going to the minor leagues," he said--Jackson snubbed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and stepped right up to bat for the Kansas City Royals, with mixed reviews.
Sometime in November when Jackson takes up his "hobby" with the Raiders, the two will be teammates again, assuming that the Raiders choose to retain Woods as a wide receiver and kick returner.
Woods made an unforgettable debut with the Raiders in last week's first practice game against the San Francisco 49ers--unforgettable because there was little else worth remembering in that 42-16 misfire.
His second-quarter, 56-yard punt return for a touchdown made an impression if for no other reason than he did it early enough to make film at 11.
"The guy (Max Runager) got off a good punt," Woods said Monday. "He kicked the ball all the way to the right sideline and forced us out of the middle. They were coming down to close in and seal me off, but the guys did a super job of hustling.
"I looked up the middle and it was closed, but I stayed with some blocks that sprung me outside, I was fortunate to make a couple of guys miss, and it was off to the races."
Mike Haynes walked by, eavesdropping.
"The hardest part was getting him to make that cut back across the grain, and then get back outside," Haynes said, teasing. "It took us a long time, a lot of hard work to get him to do that."
Woods thanked Haynes for his tips, then continued: "Up in Canada, I could always play with it in the middle because I knew I had about six extra yards on the sideline. I didn't expect to be able to do that here, but I'm glad things work the same way."
Woods played for three years in Canada, where the field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide. He was with Edmonton in 1984-85 and Toronto in '86, but he always knew where he would be eventually.
"I played in a wishbone offense at Auburn with great backs the likes of Bo Jackson," Woods said. "It was like, 'Give it to Bo or give it to Chris.' Who would you rather have it? That was a very easy decision."
So as the decoy wide receiver who seldom fooled anyone, Woods had only 52 receptions in four years, slightly more than one a game.
"That influenced my decision to go to Canada," Woods said. "Go up there and play a couple of years and see what it's like to catch 60 passes a season."
And how was it?
"It was beautiful," he said. "I had to adjust to going deep all the time, like I always wanted to."
Woods signed with Edmonton before the National Football League draft, but the Raiders got his future rights in the 1984 supplemental draft.
"I didn't use it like a steppingstone, although that's the way they sold the league to me," Woods said. "I played hard and helped them. Every year, we went to the playoffs.
"But that was the plan, like a guy going to the minor leagues. I had a good 40 time, good hands, good work habits, but in spite of that I'd be on the bench for two years learning and watching when I could be up there playing. Experience, I think, is the best teacher. So here I am."
Safety Stefon Adams walked by and said: "Mention the good block."
"I was just doing that," Woods assured him.
On a team suddenly deep in receivers, Woods would prefer to earn his keep not as a specialist but as a regular member of the offense. But first he must become accustomed to the smaller NFL field.
"I'm not on that big field where you have all that space," he said. "If I was to split out in Canada, I'd be about five extra yards away from the free safety coming in on a slant.
"I want to be a receiver, too. I enjoy that double role. I like running punts. I'm excited about running 'em, because now the guys have confidence in me."
Confidence also is earned. Woods learned that in Canada, where any ball kicked into the end zone is worth one point if it stays there. It used to be called a rouge , reflecting a French-Canadian influence, but nowadays it's simply a "single," and the receiving team takes over at its 35-yard line.
"I'd just see a point go on the board and think, 'What is this?' " Woods said. "So I decided I'd never give anybody a point. I always ran 'em out.
"One game they punted two yards deep into the end zone. I ran it out toward our bench, and everybody's yelling, 'Give 'em a point! We'll bring it out to the 35!' and all the guys on the sideline were cussin' me out. But I was running farther and farther.
"I knew the coaches were saying, 'Ah, he's stupid, he's crazy, he's--he's not crazy, he's going all the way!' And then, after 112 yards, 'Oh, that was a good run, a smart run. He knew what he was doing.' "
Woods was still operating on Canadian instincts when he took a 49er kickoff one-yard deep in his end zone last week. He tried to run it out, fumbled, then fell on the ball at the seven-yard line.
"I should have used better judgment and just downed it in the end zone," he said. "No excuse at all."
The veteran Rod Martin came by.
"Best return man since (former Raider Greg) Pruitt," Martin said.
"It was good to break one, but that's behind me now," he said. "That's one thing about this NFL. It's 'What are you doing now?' You always have to produce."
Woods knows better than any Raider what to expect when Bo Jackson arrives in November. He played for two seasons with Jackson at Auburn.
"It'll be worth watching him," Woods said. "No question, he'll come into the league hungry and courageous. Everybody better look out.
"The thing about him, he can run over you, through you or around you. He's quick, fast and powerful."
And a neat guy, too?
"He was in my wedding, as one of the groomsmen," Woods said. "You have to know him. I can't explain him. You'll always know how he feels. He's just straight-up.
"I think he'll come in here and try to earn respect. His teammates always respected him.
"I think Marcus Allen is the best all-round back in the NFL. I'm sure (Bo) will come in here with that on his mind: playing with another great back, somebody else who got the Heisman Trophy. It'll be exciting."
Woods was asked why Jackson, finishing the baseball season with the Royals, wants to play two major league sports.
"I don't know whether baseball's boring to him or not, but I know he needs a challenge in his life, something like somebody saying, 'Man, nobody could ever play both sports and be successful at both.' '
"He needs a challenge. Guys with great talent need a challenge. If he doesn't have a challenge, he might create one."
Raider Notes Starting center Don Mosebar (elbow) worked with the first offensive unit for the first time Monday. "It looks like there's nothing hampering him," Coach Tom Flores said. Mosebar probably will start Saturday night's game against Buffalo at the Coliseum. The line from left to right was Shelby Jordan, second-round draft choice Bruce Wilkerson, Mosebar, Charley Hannah and Bruce Davis. Other offensive linemen mending include Dean Miraldi, Mickey Marvin, Curt Marsh, Henry Lawrence and Bill Lewis, who strained a knee last week against San Francisco.
Cornerback Lester Hayes' right foot was still "pretty sore," Flores said. "Tests were negative, but I would list him as doubtful (to play) right now." Flores said the injury was unrelated to the broken bone in his foot that ended Hayes' season prematurely last year. Hayes hurt the foot in pregame warmups. "I didn't know it (until) I looked up and there's Lionel (Washington)," Flores said. "I thought maybe they'd asked Lester to leave because of his uniform." Hayes has complained about the NFL's stricter dress code.. . . . Free safety Vann McElroy (knee) was a sideline observer, without pads. . . .
Backup quarterback Ed Luther missed Monday's two practices to attend his father's funeral. . . . Five players cut Monday were linebacker Daryl Goodlow, Oklahoma; wide receiver Craig Holder, Cal State Sacramento; tight end Mike McCloskey, Penn State; linebacker Dan McMillan, Colorado, and kicker Chris White, Illinois.