Woodley wants to make history
Monday, August 03, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The last sack was the best, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was saying before lunch yesterday at Saint Vincent College. Better than his 11 1/2 sacks in his break-out regular season. Better even than his brutal sack of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the playoffs, which resulted in a $10,000 fine from the NFL but still seems like money well-spent.
The last sack was the best, Woodley said, because of what was at stake. The Steelers led the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, with 15 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIII when Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner lined his team up at the Steelers' 44 for one final, desperation play.
"So many times in football you see 'em throw the ball up and crazy stuff happens," Woodley said. He mentioned the Kordell Stewart pass that beat his alma mater, Michigan, for Colorado in 1994. Of course, he mentioned the Doug Flutie pass that beat Miami for Boston College in '84.
So Woodley gathered himself one final time on what had been an exhausting evening. He found the strength to shrug off tackle Levi Brown, somehow keeping his balance as he kept his eye on Warner's arm and the football.
"At the last second, I stretched out and got the ball," Woodley said. "When I saw us recover it, I knew it was over."
The Steelers were world champions.
Woodley's life has been one wild ride ever since.
"The parade through the city was huge for me. That really got me going," he said. "Looking up at the windows, seeing all of the people hanging out ... That probably was bigger to me than getting the ring because everybody came out and was a part of it."
Later, there was an appearance on the Black Entertainment Television network with teammate Willie Parker, a little modeling at BET's "Rip The Runway" show in New York, appearances at ESPN The Weekend in Orlando and the ESPYs in Los Angeles, a television commercial for EA Sports with Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Parker, a meet-and-greet with mixed-martial arts legend Kimbo Slice at the Ultimate Fighting Championship 100 in Las Vegas and -- this might have been the topper -- a trip to Tempe, Ariz., for the premiere of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Perhaps you saw the pictures of Hugh Jackman -- the movie's star -- admiring the huge tattoo of a wolverine on Woodley's enormous right bicep.
"That was my first red-carpet experience. I kind of felt like a kid," Woodley said, fairly giggling. "Man, I've always loved X-Men."
I asked Woodley if he found any time to get ready for this season.
Hey, it seemed like a fair question.
"I never lose focus on football," Woodley said, serious now. "Football is what I do. Everything else is secondary."
Woodley plans on being better this season than last, hard as that is to imagine. Opposing teams weren't sure what he could do as a first-year starter in '08 and devoted much of their attention to NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison on the other side. Before they knew what had hit their quarterback, Woodley had accumulated all of those sacks.
"I think I earned their respect. Maybe they'll have to worry about LaMarr Woodley a little bit now," he said. "They'll still have to worry about James, of course. Maybe that'll open things up for an Aaron Smith or a Brett Keisel. Or maybe it will lead to Troy [Polamalu] getting an interception and taking it to the house. Or Deshea [Townsend] getting an interception and taking it to the house. That's what makes our defense so good, the way we fit in so well together and work together."
Woodley's two favorite regular-season plays from '08 might surprise you. Neither involved one of his sacks. "I've been hitting quarterbacks all my life. That's nothing new to me," he said, shrugging. His top play was his interception against the Houston Texans in the opener. "First interception of my life. I never even got one in touch football," he said. No. 2 was his fumble recovery and touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field after Harrison sacked quarterback Joe Flacco. "That was big because it came at such a crucial time in the game," he said.
Woodley was huge in the Steelers' run to the Super Bowl, getting two sacks in each of their wins against the Chargers, Ravens and Cardinals. He is the first player in NFL history to get at least two sacks in four consecutive postseason games, going back to the Steelers' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in '07, his rookie season. "They say big-time players show up in big games and make big-time plays," he said.
Woodley remembers his second sack of Rivers almost as fondly as the Warner sack. It set up a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 28-10 lead. But that isn't the only reason.
"After I got him the first time, he talked a little trash," Woodley said of Rivers. "I did my little celebration kick and he said, 'Just shut up and get back in the huddle.'
"Then, I got him the second time. You could tell he was a little woozy getting up. That's when I told him, 'See what happens when you run your mouth?' "
Not even the mention of that big fine from the league office -- no penalty was called on the play -- can ruin Woodley's memory of the sack. Maybe that's because money doesn't figure to be a problem for him any time soon. He is signed through the 2010 season and almost certainly will be a long-term priority for the Steelers. Don't think that he didn't notice that the team gave Harrison a six-year, $51.175 million contract in April, including a $10 million signing bonus.
"The money will be there," Woodley said. "Money isn't the world, anyway. Ain't no price tag on winning. Winning and making history is something you can't buy. Me? I'm a guy who loves history. When I'm 60 or 70, I don't want to be remembered for the money I made. I want to be in the history books."
For a string of seasons with double-digit sacks, sure.
For multiple sacks in postseason games, absolutely.
For the occasional interception and touchdown, you bet.
But most of all?
For winning multiple Super Bowls.
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