Two of the greatest players to ever strap on an NFL helmet are one step away from being immortalized, and the Cowboys legends spoke on being named finalists for Canton
FRISCO, TX — It's the pinnacle of the sport, and something everyone who ever straps on a helmet hopes to achieve, both DeMarcus Ware and Darren Woodson (modern era) joining fellow Dallas Cowboys legend Chuck Howley (senior) in being named as finalists to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023.
Announcements were made on Wednesday evening, and both Ware and Woodson sat down on Thursday afternoon at The Star in Frisco to explain what the honor of making it far in the process means to them — one step closer to being immortalized in Canton, Ohio.
"[Professional] football is usually like two or three years, but we got to play 12 years and we're up here, and we can actually say we're healthy, feeling good," said Ware. "And now being able to be, maybe, enshrined together amongst the best ever. And that longevity that we talk about — when we looked at those older guys who played 15 years — and now we're those guys up here with a platform that we can change so many people's lives. Give that to me.
"Give me that yellow jacket so I can do something with it."
Ware, selected 11th-overall by the Cowboys in 2005, went on to build a Hall of Fame resume in Dallas before the eventual seven-time All-Pro landed in Denver to cap his career with a Super Bowl victory as a member of the Broncos. He'd go on to retire as a Cowboy on a one-day contract in 2017, and continues to contribute to both organizations and communities.
This is Ware's second go at potentially landing in the Hall of Fame, in stark contrast to Woodson, who has been a part of the process several times since the three-time Super Bowl champion, five-time All-Pro safety and Cowboys Ring of Honor inductee retired in 2004.
He's never once been a finalist, though.
"Let me say this: it ain't been that long for you, bruh. That question was meant for me. " Woodson said half-jokingly to Ware, leading to an explosion of laughter from the entire room, everyone understanding how the previous snubs impacted him mentally. "Yea, it's been a long time. Look, I didn't play this game for recognition, but I did play the game at a high level for my teammates and I played at a high level to win championships. I didn't care about the individual honors at the time but, in the end, when you put in that type of work … and you spend those long hours, you wake up early and stay late, and you take the criticism; and you're away from your family, you want to be recognized.
"You really do."
Woodson remains the franchise's all-time leader in tackles, having mostly operated in/defined the role of safety-linebacker hybrid in his career. It's the cloth many are now cut from, shades of which can also be seen in Jayron Kearse's and Donovan Wilson's role, though Woodson also operated more as a free safety and not strong (it was Roy Williams who performed in the latter role).
Similar to Ware, he was the type of generational talent organizations try for years to find, often unsuccessfully, and the Cowboys were able to acquire both. And with a chance for Ware and Woodson to join Howley as a trio of inductees in 2023 would mean more to their legacy than words can describe.
"For the longest time, I felt like I wanted to be recognized and to be one of the greatest, to be one of those who wear a yellow jacket," said Woodson. "So, yea, it's been on my mind. Not only has it been on my mind, but it's something I worked toward to be something special in this life. … We're not [all] cut from the same cloth.
"I burn hot every single day. I wanna go hard all the time. This is a moment that I'm not going to take lightly. I'm appreciative to be here."
As modern-era finalists, Ware and Woodson have survived an original list of 129 nominees, that number dwindling to 28 semifinalists in November and now to only 15 in January. Inductees to Canton will be named/honored on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET — three days ahead of Super Bowl 52 in Glendale, Arizona.