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Spagnola: Can't Understand Woody's Exclusion


FIRSCO, Texas – As we continue to wait on Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to bring some clarity to the Jason Garrett situation, as of late Friday afternoon, let's go chew on something else for the time being.

Darren Woodson.

Once again ignored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, failing to advance among this year's 15 finalists to be discussed before the full committee the Saturday prior to Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.

Don't get it. Just don't get it.

Do these people watch games? Have they watched games?

Come on, it's not as if Woodson played back in the 1970s or 1980s. My goodness, he played safety for the Cowboys from 1992-2003, ending up on injured reserve in 2004 after having back surgery, then retiring late that season. He's current.

My goodness, he played in those Cowboys' three Super Bowls. During his career, he played in 16 NFL playoff games. A career total of 178 regular-season games. These voters just had to see him play.

To me, Woodson was the heart and soul of those Cowboys defenses, by the way, the ones finishing No. 1 in total defense in 1992, 1994 and 2003. The one finishing No. 2 in 1997, No. 3 in 1996 and No. 4 in 2001.

Oh, and played on those Cowboys defenses winning all three of those Super Bowls, playing in four straight NFC title games and for a team going 11-5 in the playoffs throughout his 13-year career.

Here is what Jones had to say about Woodson when he decided to hang 'em up in December 2004: "For 13 years, he was everything you could ask for – unselfish, reliable, dependable, a team player first and a team leader always. He's a living, breathing example of the saying that character does matter."

That right there should be the inscription on Woodson's Ring of Honor plaque. Fits him to a T.

See, here is the deal on Woodson: You had to watch him play. Sure, he is classified as a safety. But how many safeties are capable of playing strong safety and then later in his career play free safety?

Plus, how many safeties can you name capable of going into the slot on the nickel defenses to cover wide receivers? That's right, wide receivers. Not tight ends. Not running backs. But at times, was called upon to cover Jerry Rice if the All-World receiver should wander into his slot.

To me, his versatility is unmatched.

But if you just have to have numbers, let me give you some numbers for this five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.

Let's start here: Woodson is the Cowboys' all-time franchise leader in total tackles with 1,350. All-time now. That's more career tackles than the likes of Randy White, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, an all-decade player in the 1970s who darn well should be voted in this time among the senior guys advancing to the finals.

Face it, after all, these are the Cowboys. Not some rag-tag bunch of no-names. The Cowboys have featured some of the NFL's all-time best defenders. And "Woody" totaled more combined tackles than any of them.

Plus, it's not just combined tackles. Woody leads the franchise in solo tackles with 787. And to me, that's meaningful. He's a safety. He is not loitering around the line of scrimmage where tackling in congestion is much more simple. The majority of his tackles came in space. Takes much more talent to make those. And on top of leading the franchise in solo tackles, he also leads in assisted tackles (563), too.

But this next category might be most meaningful. On top of starting 162 of his 178 total games played, Woodson also is the franchise all-time leader with 134 special teams tackles. That's right, special teams. Even though he was a fulltime starter ever since his second season in the league, Woody was playing coverage on special teams, too. Former Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano would not play without him. He was a necessary element on those teams.

Which also reveals another Hall of Fame character trait about Woodson. He didn't big-time his coach. A 10- to 12-year veteran not balking at playing special teams. That right there is special.

Now then, given all that, this is what should turn your stomach over Woodson being shut out of advancing to the final 15 once again.

Four safeties, count 'em four, advanced to the 2020 final 15: Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, John Lynch and Troy Polamalu. Now I get Butler. As a safety during his 12-year career with the Packers, he had 38 interceptions, and interceptions to safeties are like sacks to defensive ends. Sometimes that's all that matters.

But come on, Atwater and Lynch? Woodson had 23 career picks. Atwater 24 and Lynch 26. No difference.

And those guys were basically strong safeties. Box guys. They were not cover guys like Woodson, a guy who could play all over the field.

One of the best compliments of Woody's talents came after his 1992 rookie season. Remember, the Cowboys took a chance on Woodson, selecting him in the second round when they knew he was going to have to make a position change in the NFL. At Arizona State, Woodson was a hybrid linebacker, but defensive backs coach Dave Campo envisioned him as a safety when working him out.

So in his rookie year, head coach Jimmy Johnson didn't want to burden Woody with too big a role, deciding to just let him concentrate on coming in on the nickel defense and playing special teams. But while heading into his first offseason, remember Johnson saying his biggest mistake in 1992 was not starting Woodson right from the start.

He was that good.

And he only got better … Hall of Fame better for sure.