Ex-Bengals rally for Ickey Woods

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

The Cincinnati Bengals haven't always been the bad news bears of the NFL.

While Chad Ochocinco was getting dinged $25Gs for tweeting during a game this week, the team from a generation ago was gathering in a Cincinnati hospital to help a former teammate.

Ickey Woods rushed for 1,525 yards in four seasons with the Bengals in the 1980s and invented the endzone celebration. It was called the Ickey Shuffle and by the standards set today by Terrell Owens & Co. -- it was a tame exhibition.

Back then, when a pat on the rump or slap upside a helmet was considered demonstrative, Woods antics were celebrated and deplored in equal amounts but, unlike the Bengals of today, no player died, nobody went to jail and hardly anyone got arrested. Nobody made millions of dollars either.

Which is just one of the reasons Woods' teammates showed up at the hospital on a Saturday night a couple weeks ago.

They were there to support a former teammate as his son, Jovante Woods, just 16, lay dying after a lethal asthma attack. Woods' family had no health insurance and as word leaked, the old Bengals rallied.

According to reporters in Cincinnati, the hospital lobby looked like a team reunion. Former receiver Tim McGee told them: "Everybody liked Ickey. He was different. He had the ponytail. He was from California. And he had that stupid dance where you hardly did anything."

His son died three days after suffering the attack following a high school football practice. At the hospital, Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz and wife DeDe were there, along with the tackle on the other side, Joe Walter, Max Montoya, the right guard, Kevin Walker, the linebacker and Eric Ball, his former backfield partner.

Today, they would all be making multi-million dollars. But when Ickey was shuffling, it was still more about teams than individuals. McGee signed his rookie contract in 1986 as the 21st player taken in the draft. He got $500,000 to sign with $150,000 his first year. Nice, but after expenses anyone not drafted in the first round was hardly set for life. In comparison this season, Bengals' rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham -- the 21st pick -- got $10 million guaranteed.

Ickey Woods might not have got the guaranteed millions but he did get something that might be almost as valuable. He got the love and respect of his teammates. He got a devotion and friends that have endured longer than many of those multi-million-dollar contracts that dominate NFL pre-season discussions today.

Ball, now the Bengals director of player development, contacted the NFL's Caring Program for former players to get help. Bengals president Mike Brown sent a cheque. This Saturday, after a memorial service last week in California, Ickey Woods will bury his son in Cincinnati. With the tears there will be a trickle of thankfulness.

Ickey's teammates and friends have made sure his medical and funeral costs would be covered. "He's been my friend since '88 and that's what you do; you rally around a friend," said former teammate Joe Kelly.


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