PHOENIX – This was supposed to be a storybook event for Darren Woodson, who grew up just a few miles from downtown Phoenix and was hopeful this would be the time and place where he reached the pinnacle of the NFL.
But Woodson's path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have to wait.
Woodson was not selected for the 2023 class, as those who will be enshrined were announced on Thursday night, just threedays before Super Bowl LVII.
Despite making it as one of the 15 finalists for the first time, Woodson said he tried to not get his hopes up too high. At the same time, though, he admitted his disappointment.
"Yeah, anytime you're in a situation where you're up for an award and you don't win it … I'd be a fool and lying to you if I said I wasn't disappointed," Woodson said on Thursday. "I'm disappointed, but I'm not broken by it. There's an opportunity for me to continue in this process and hopefully that opportunity is next year, the following year or whatever. I feel like, at some point, it's going to happen. And I'm OK with that."
The 2023 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will include former Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and Chuck Howley.
Woodson, the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler and a member of the Ring of Honor at AT&T Stadium, has certainly had to wait, even to get to this round of finalists.
"Going into this, my expectations were set on, 'Hey, this is my first time on the floor,'" Woodson said. "I'm not sure if anyone makes it the first time you get into the top 15 unless you're a first-ballot guy. But I'm OK. I've got a lot of friends and family and tons of support here. I'm going to be fine."
Woodson not only grew up near Phoenix, but was a star at Arizona State before being drafted by the Cowboys in 1992. He helped Dallas win two Super Bowls in his first two seasons, and then was a big part of a third Super Bowl title in 1995, which was also played here in Phoenix.
Woodson wanted nothing more than to get the news of being a Hall of Famer right here in his hometown. But even the disappointing news hasn't ruined what Woodson called a "magical" week.
"This is home," he said. "Having the Super Bowl here and getting to see family and friends here, and go out to dinner with people I haven't seen in so long, was really great. I loved seeing old teammates like Deion Sanders and Emmitt Smith and Kenny Gant, the "Shark." That's what it's all about. I think everything has been very positive."
And in true Woodson fashion, he made sure to honor the players that got in, especially the ones with Cowboys ties.
"I'm absolutely proud of the guys that got in," Woodson said. "They're all deserving. 'D-Ware' has played at the highest of high levels. I'm proud of him for getting in. He deserves it and so does (Howley). He waited a long, long time."