PRO FOOTBALL / BILL PLASCHKE : The Shuffle Is Now His Sales Pitch

We adored it, opponents smirked at it, the NFL outlawed it, the nation talked about it, but only Ickey Woods ever truly understood it.

That is why, five years later, the former Cincinnati Bengal running back is still doing the Ickey Shuffle. The only thing that has changed are the reasons.

It used to be a dance of celebration.

It has become a dance of survival.

How it works at Summit City Steak and Seafood in Fort Wayne, Ind., is this: Ickey Woods drives his truck into a neighborhood, parks it and starts walking.

He knocks on doors, introduces himself to the person who answers and asks if they are interested in purchasing a case of meat or seafood.

The person often does not believe it is him-- sure, a big-time athlete is standing on our porch selling meat --so he pulls out an old football card to prove it.

"I carry one around, just for that purpose," he said.

If the person has a freezer and can be convinced to buy a case for between $171 and $189, they sometimes end the transaction with a request.

"Right before I'm leaving, they will say, 'Hey, how about showing us a little bit of that shuffle?' " Woods said.

And?

Woods paused.

"And so I do it for them," he said. "I don't look at it like dancing. I look at it like putting clothes on my children's backs."

They say that five years in the NFL is a lifetime. And so it has happened for Woods, who has gone from dancing on the turf in front of thousands of fans for three years to pounding the pavement in front of doors that often never open.

Remember this story the next time you are furious because an offensive linemen is making $1 million. Remember this story when you think professional football players should not get all they can, while they can.

"Lot of people say, 'Ickey, why you selling steaks?' " said Woods, 27. "I say, 'Man, I've got to make a living . . . And I will make it, one way or another.' "

Woods, whose career was cut short by knee problems after the 1990 season, has been doing this for eight months. He started as strictly a door-to-door salesman, but two weeks ago was promoted to manager, allowing him to spend more time in an office.

"He's the best employee I've ever had," said Bill Cochran Jr., president of Best Western Steaks and Seafood in Cincinnati, the parent firm. "I assumed like everybody else, football players know football, but anything else. . . . I thought maybe Ickey would have an ego problem.

"I was wrong. Apparently, football players are made of more than we all think."

Woods, whose end-zone dance delighted America as he rushed for 1,066 yards to lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season, is made of more than even he thought.

"When I first got hurt (and had reconstructive surgery), I couldn't cope. I didn't do anything for about a year and a half," Woods said. "Then I realized, I had people who loved me. People who needed me."

Namely, a wife and four children age 10 and younger. When he realized his football savings wouldn't last much longer, he looked for work.

He was told that the highest-paying job for a person with his experience would be selling meat door to door. He asked for keys and a map.

"Wasn't nothing to it," Woods said. "You got steady bills and nothing coming in. You got four babies, you put your ego aside."

When Woods sold in Cincinnati, groups of children would sometimes follow him from house to house, asking for his autograph.

"It was nice at first, but then it made it hard," Woods said. "I would have to tell them, 'Guys, I've got to work.' "

But Ickey will always do the shuffle for the kids. If he's in the right mood, he will also do it for friends in the office.

After all, this was a dance once attempted by even the elderly Paul Brown. This was that rare part of pro football that became a part of Americana.

"I like to think I left a mark on the NFL, a great mark," Woods said. "But life doesn't revolve around the NFL. I know that now."

Ickey Woods can re-create anything about the Ickey Shuffle except the ending.

He no longer has anything to spike. He hopes the customers understand.

PICKY, PICKY

Don't be alarmed. But if you check Page 326 of the NFL 1993 Record & Fact Book, you will see that even with a victory Sunday in Philadelphia, Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins will not break George Halas' record for "most games won, head coach."

That is because that record section, complied by Elias Sports Bureau, deals only in regular-season records. It lists George Halas with 318 victories and Shula, in second place, with 300 victories before this season.

Then what's with all this Shula-mania? Because for the last 16 years, the NFL has kept a special listing of career coaching records that includes postseason games.

Shula has coached in 24 more postseason games than Halas did, and won 18 of those games; Halas won six. So with Shula's 325th victory Sunday, he will move into first place.

However, critics are saying that he will not be the true coaching champion, not until he surpasses Halas in regular-season victories. He still trails Papa Bear in that category by 11.

We say, hogwash. Unlike players, coaches are responsible for the entire team, their records tied to entire games. So when they win enough to advance to the postseason, those postseason games should count.

You want to throw out Shula's playoff victories because he had more chances? Let's also throw out Halas' victories against teams made up of soldiers and sailors.

Seymour Siwoff, director of Elias, agrees.

"With one win, Shula will be the indisputable leader," he said. "We don't do the same thing for players, but I agree with the NFL that coaches are in a different category."

So why not put Shula's record in his section?

"Because our section is still predicated on regular-season accomplishments, and we don't want to rework it," Siwoff said. "Those who are complaining about this . . . they can have a party when he breaks the other record next year."

GO FIGURE

--Of the 53 players on the Cleveland Browns' roster, only 11 have survived the entire three-year reign of humorless Coach Bill Belichick.

--Using Belichick's innovative offense, the Browns have scored more than two touchdowns in only 21 of 40 games since he took over.

--The Houston Oilers have won only one game against a team using its regular starting quarterback.

--The last time kicker Morten Andersen of the New Orleans Saints did not score a point in a game was in 1983.

--The Dallas Cowboy defense has not given up a touchdown in the first quarter since the first game of the season.

--Two running backs lead their teams in rushing and receiving. You may have guessed the Pittsburgh Steelers' Barry Foster, but did you also guess . . . the New York Jets' Johnny Johnson?

--For acting as backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for eight games, Bernie Kosar will earn $1 million, only $170,000 less than Troy Aikman will earn for all 16.

--Derrick Thomas, the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive end whose father was shot down in Vietnam in 1972 and declared legally dead eight years later, has had 18 of his 63 career sacks on games during the week of Veterans Day.

Last Monday night, in a game that featured a Veterans Day tribute at Arrowhead Stadium, Thomas had two sacks and two forced fumbles against the Green Bay Packers.

--The NFL's youngest and oldest players will battle next week at Anaheim Stadium. Jackie Slater, 39, of the Rams is the oldest. Washington Redskin cornerback Tom Carter, 21, is the youngest.

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