It was good to see D-Wood back in the building today, but like many events at this time of the year, it was a bittersweet moment as well. Damien Woody, one of the good guys and one really good and versatile offensive lineman, was back here today to announce his retirement from the NFL.
“The game of football, man, has been a blessing,” said Woody, who shared the moment in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center with Nicole, his high school sweetheart and wife of 12 years. “I don’t even have words to describe what football has done for me in my life and her life.”
But of course Woody had many words today — he’d better, since he’s going into a new line of work as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN as an NFL analyst.. And many of them were kind words toward the Jets, who put him to great use as their right tackle anchor for the last three of his dozen-year pro career.
“When I came over here, I had only played five games at tackle, just five games at the end of the season with the Detroit Lions. They took a chance on me and signed me to a big deal when I came over — that’s a big leap of faith right there,” he said. “Throughout my time here, they’ve really taken care of me and my family, from the top down, Woody Johnson, Eric Mangini when I first came in to Rex, Mike Tannenbaum. We have a great relationship. I’ve got the utmost respect for everybody in the building.”
Ryan, who often rode the Jets’ ground-and-pound running game — No. 1 in the NFL in yards gained in 2009-10 combined — off of Woody’s wide base, returned the favor.
“D-Wood’s a tremendous player, and I don’t know if people realize how competitive he is,” Ryan said in introducing Woody to reporters at the end of his daily news conference in the media room. “He’d get the tough assignments and never flinch. He’s one of the great centers in this game, a Pro Bowl center, a great tackle. You could fit him across the line anyplace you’d want.”
Now Woody will be fitting into TV and radio studios as a talking head for ESPN and ESPN New York Radio. In the spirit of that role he was asked to analyze a few things on the Jets — quarterback Mark Sanchez for starters. He gave a critical analysis of Sanchez, but most of it was a very positive critique.
“This team’s going to be a competitor for a while,” he said. “It has the nucleus in place. You can’t win without a quarterback, and they’ve got a quarterback. The guy’s the real deal. Obviously he’s in a tough market, everything he does is going to get scrutinized, but this guy’s the real deal. … What Mark needs to do is that whatever he’s doing in the playoffs, now he has to do it in the regular season. If he does that, the sky’s the limit for this team.”
Another opinion thread from Woody, who broke in as a radio host with Sirius XM NFL Radio last year, is on the nature of the “game” he was involved in. He wasn’t sure if he should use a certain word to describe his release by the Jets before the lockout, but he did anyway.
“Look, this is a business,” he said, “but everything was just done gracefully. Everybody was just reaching out to explain the situation. Everybody in this organization has just treated me well.”
Ryan echoed some of those sentiments when he was asked about this eternally tough part of the game and of losing people from his locker room every year.
“I don’t think concern is the appropriate word,” he said of some recent events, such as Jerricho Cotchery’s release, Shaun Ellis’ possible departure, and Woody’s retirement. “Obviously I recognize the leadership these men brought to our team, there’s no question about it. We have other leaders here as well. One thing about this is this is the Jets family. We’re a team.
“This is the league, this is what we’re in now. Sometimes you can’t keep everybody. Sometimes guys are moving on to bigger paydays, sometimes they choose to leave, sometimes it’s time for them to leave. These are the cold, hard facts. But I believe in every one of the guys who come into this building. We believe in them. We also also want to be world champions. That’s not just lip service. We’re trying to do it.
“There’s a lot of guys I’d love to have back, but that’s not the way it is.”
Yet every once in a while, during a break in the activity toward building that team to compete for the world championship, teams and players get to come back and embrace one more time before moving off on separate paths.
“I didn’t really want to see Damien go,” said Brandon Moore, Woody’s next-door neighbor at right guard. “But in talking to him this offseason, this was something he was considering. He had a hell of a career, and picked it up even more at the end when he came here. It was a pleasure to play with him, with a guy of that caliber. You don’t get that opportunity a lot during your career. I know he’ll be successful in whatever he chooses to do after this.”
“He’s always got that smile on his face,” said Ryan, “and he’s a guy who’s going to be involved in this game a long, long time.”
“You never know. You never expect this day to happen,” Woody said. “But one thing I say is I’m really looking forward to life after football, especially my body.
“This is a great day.”
Say hallelujah one last time for Damien Woody.
The On-Field Résumé
Woody played in 173 games in his 12 NFL regular seasons with 166 starts, and added eight more games and starts for four playoff teams, including the Jets’ two PO teams and one start in Super Bowl XXXVI for the Patriots.
At one time, in 2007, he was the only active player who had made at least five starts at center, guard and tackle each. Here’s how his versatility shook out in starts by position:
Left guard — 14 starts in all games, 13 starts in regular season
Center — 63 / 60
Right guard — 43 / 43
Right tackle — 54 / 50
One other note on Woody: In his 49 Jets games, he was hit with a few false starts, but he had only one holding penalty marked off against him, and none in his last 47 Jets games.
Tags: Brandon Moore, Damien Woody, Mark Sanchez, Mike Tannenbaum, retirement, Rex Ryan, Woody Johnson
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