Strong safety Darren Woodson was the final piece of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty in the early to mid-1990s.
When they selected him 37th overall in the 1992 NFL Draft, they went on to win three Super Bowl titles in the next four seasons.
Woodson’s versatility allowed him to rack up stats across a slew of defensive categories. He eventually retired after the 2004 NFL season as the Cowboys’ all-time leader in tackles.
Beyond Woodson’s impact on the gridiron, he’s a man of character who has impressed football greats such as Lovie Smith and Jerry Jones through the years.
Woodson winning the 2002 Bart Starr Award for his character and leadership on the gridiron and his community serves as hard evidence.
Hopefully, Darren Woodson will wear that elusive gold jacket and unveil his bust in Canton someday.
Darren Ray Woodson was born to parents Arthur and Freddie in Phoenix, AZ on April 25, 1969.
Arthur Woodson was hardly present in his life when he was a child. It was his mother who bore the brunt of the parenting load.
Darren’s single mother Freddie Luke raised him, his two brothers Randy and Todd, and his sister Monica in the Maryvale area of Phoenix.
Monica Luke told The Dallas Morning News’ Barry Horn in 2015 the family moved often because they couldn’t keep up with the constant rising costs of rents.
They eventually crossed paths with the Tucker family, who lived just two houses away.
Woodson developed a lifelong bond with Keith Tucker. The former fondly called his friend’s father “Pops” when he was growing up.
— Darren Woodson (@darrenwoodson28) May 4, 2021
Whenever the two boys went out to eat or watch a movie, Tucker paid for everything.
Maryvale, which is located in the western side of the city, had plenty of rough neighborhoods.
Woodson was always a dreamer when he was a kid. He never wanted to end up like other youngsters who did drugs, drank too much, and did other foolish things, per his YouTube documentary “Deep Blue: A Path To Safety”:
“When I was a kid, I was a big-time dreamer. As a project kid, man, I can always remember looking at certain things like the needle on the ground, cans on the ground, empty beer cans and whatnot, always thinking, ‘I’m not gonna live like this.'”
One of those people who fell on hard times was his uncle Sam. His mother regularly brought Woodson and his siblings to visit him in a prison cell roughly 60 miles from Phoenix.
“I became scared to death of incarceration,” Woodson told The Dallas Morning News in 2015.
Woodson didn’t just look up to his mother. He considered her his heroine.
She worked various clerical positions at Maricopa County Superior Court for thirty-eight years.
According to the documentary, Luke also had a second job at night because her regular day job didn’t pay well.
Despite the low pay at Maricopa County Superior Court, Freddie Luke rubbed elbows with many police offers. When they rounded up juvenile delinquents in the Maryvale area, they recognized her son and didn’t lay a hand on him.
She didn’t get home until 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. every night. Once she did, she’d sit on her chair and fall asleep.
— Darren Woodson (@darrenwoodson28) April 27, 2021
Woodson admitted he got his blue-collar work ethic from his mother, per the YouTube documentary:
“She just sacrificed so much for us. The person I saw who put that sweat equity into her family was my mother.”
“I knew what it felt like to work. I knew what it felt like to bust your ass and be totally committed to whatever it took. It stemmed from her and it’s the reason why I’m sitting here today.”
Sports were her mother’s way of keeping her children off the streets. Woodson’s two older brothers played baseball, basketball, and football. His sister Monica was also into sports.
“We were either in church or we were at the YMCA or we were at the park playing,” Woodson told GoLongTD.com’s Tyler Dunne in December 2020.
Football came naturally to Darren Woodson.
He started playing football when he was seven or eight years old. Even back then, he knew a football career would help him and his family rise above their financial situation.
Football would also give Woodson the opportunity to take care of his mother.
Woodson was a linebacker and running back at Maryvale High School. One of his teammates was future New York Giants cornerback Phillippi Sparks. They had been hanging out since they were three or four years old.
Sparks is the father of American Idol Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks.
By the time he was a high school freshman, he was already 6’1″ and 220 lbs. His friend Keith Tucker, who stood 5’7″ and weighed 160 lbs., wound up with the junior varsity squad.
Their paths eventually diverged.
While Woodson became a vital cog with the Maryvale Panthers, Tucker became part of a gang known as “The Downtown Posse.”
Three years later, Woodson somehow convinced Tucker to try out for the football team again.
Tucker made it as a reserve defensive back.
However, their teammates didn’t want Woodson hanging out with Tucker because of his checkered past.
Tucker told Horn in 2015 they didn’t have anything to worry about because he never allowed Woodson to get involved in gang activities.
In fact, it was Tucker who encouraged Woodson to leave neighborhood parties whenever he sensed something was amiss.
Woodson, who once had six touchdowns in a high school football game, earned All-Metro AAA and All-city honors during his senior year at Maryvale High.
Woodson admitted in his YouTube documentary the University of Southern California was his dream school.
Unfortunately, the USC Trojans told him his grades weren’t good enough.
Fortunately, the Arizona State Sun Devils gave him a chance.
It was during a high school football camp near the Arizona State campus in Tempe, AZ where Darren Woodson would improve his chances of making it to the college gridiron.
Assistant Sun Devils football coach Don Bocchi told him he could play college football, “if you keep right,” per Horn.
Darren Woodson would eventually do more than that so he could excel at the college football level.
College Days With The Arizona State Sun Devils
When Arizona State Sun Devils assistant coach Don Bocchi looked at Darren Woodson’s high school grades, he was concerned.
“There is nothing right,” Bocchi told him (via The Dallas Morning News). “You don’t have the grades to go to college.”
Fortunately, Bocchi gave Woodson a chance. It became a pivotal turning point in his gridiron career.
Woodson became a “Prop 48” ( a term for students who didn’t meet minimum NCAA standards) and laid off athletics for a year. He had to get his grades up so he could get a scholarship for the next four years.
Woodson, who majored in criminal justice, hit the books hard and quickly went to work in the classroom.
He also had a part-time job so he could make ends meet.
Woodson’s punctuality impressed Bocchi. The latter never skipped their weekly meetings and he always arrived on time. Bocchi never had to look for Woodson.
Bocchi told Horn the young outside linebacker was part of a rare breed of student-athletes.
Sun Devils linebackers coach Lovie Smith would play an instrumental part in Darren Woodson’s development on and off the gridiron.
Smith, who became a father figure to Woodson, marveled at his outside linebacker’s versatility.
“I thought Darren’s skill set even though he was a linebacker, he had a defensive back skill set,” Smith said in Woodson’s YouTube documentary. “He can rush like a defensive lineman. He brought so much flexibility.”
Smith and his wife MaryAnne regularly invited Woodson to their home for meals. Both of them saw something special in Woodson during his college days.
For his part, Woodson told BloggingTheBoys.com’s Aron Yohannes in September 2014 Smith helped change his life for the better:
“Lovie Smith absolutely changed my mindset, changed who I was as a person, and got me to focus for the first time on my grades and my academics.”
“He will always be a guy who I hold deep and near to my heart becaue he changed my life in a lot of different aspects.”
When Darren Woodson finally suited up for the Sun Devils as a sophomore in 1988, several of their assistants wanted him to play for them.
Bear in mind Woodson played on both sides of the ball in high school. His exemplary preseason work made the assistants vie for his services.
Lovie Smith names Darren Woodson, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester, among others as the best he's ever coached #RivalsChallenge
— Rivals Camp Series (@RivalsCamp) June 8, 2013
Lovie Smith eventually won out. Darren Woodson suited up for him as an outside linebacker.
Woodson didn’t disappoint: he led the Sun Devils with 122 tackles as a sophomore in the 1988 NCAA season. He even had 16 tackles in one game against the Stanford Cardinal.
Arizona State was just a mediocre squad in head football coach Larry Marmie’s first year at the helm. The Sun Devils went 6-4-1 in 1989 and failed to receive a bowl invite for the second straight year.
Nonetheless, Darren Woodson earned honorable mention All-Pac 10 honors that year.
Woodson displayed his versatility by playing as an inside linebacker and defensive end in several games during his senior campaign.
Arizona State finished the 1991 NCAA campaign with a mediocre 6-5 win-loss record.
For his part, Woodson earned All-Pac 10 Second Team honors in 1991.
Darren Woodson finished his three-year stint with the Arizona State Sun Devils with 803 tackles and five interceptions.
He would take his game to even greater heights when he entered the National Football League in 1992.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys made Darren Woodson the 37th overall selection of the 1992 NFL Draft.
Happy Birthday to ex-Cowboys great, S Darren Woodson.
Woodson played his entire career for the @dallascowboys. He was drafted in the 2nd round (37th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft out of Arizona State University.@darrenwoodson28 pic.twitter.com/YHJykmQ77C
— DFW Sports (@DFW_SportsBlitz) April 25, 2021
It was ironic considering Woodson hated the Cowboys when he was growing up in Arizona. Despite the twist of fate, Woodson enjoyed an epic career in Dallas.
Dallas Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones shared the same sentiments on Woodson as Lovie Smith, per Horn:
“From the minute he walked through that door, you knew he was the type of man that you wanted to be a representative of your organization both on and off the field.”
“He just knew how to do things the right way. That was a constant throughout his time as a Cowboy and into his post-playing career. He’s always had the right stuff.”
When Woodson was in Dallas in 1992, he completed a Cowboys roster that included quarterback Troy Aikman, wide receiver Michael Irvin, running back Emmitt Smith, and fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston.
Woodson became part of a Cowboys dynasty in the early to mid-1990s.
Prior to playing his first down with the Cowboys, Woodson met legendary Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach at a picnic.
Staubach made a bold prediction: Woodson would become a member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Woodson didn’t know what the Ring of Honor was, per BloggingTheBoys.com.
When he went inside Texas Stadium for the first time, he saw the Ring of Honor and finally realized what Staubach was talking about.
— Joe Trahan (@JoeTrahan) November 1, 2015
At the beginning of Woodson’s rookie year in 1992, the Cowboys weren’t sure what position suited him the best since he was small for an NFL linebacker.
Cowboys defensive backs coach Dave Campo eventually convinced Jones and Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson that Woodson would excel at strong safety.
Darren Woodson eventually evolved into one of the most legendary strong safeties in Dallas Cowboys franchise history.
While Woodson played all 16 games as a rookie in 1992, he had just one sack playing as a backup safety and extra defensive back in nickel formations that year.
Nonetheless, Woodson won the first of his three Super Bowl rings at the end of that season. The Cowboys routed the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
Woodson made his presence felt with a sack and three fumble recoveries in his second pro season in 1993.
The Cowboys won their second straight Vince Lombardi Trophy. They beat the Bills for the second consecutive year with a resounding 30-13 win in Super Bowl XXVIII.
We hit you guys again with our FunkyTime Friday segment as the weekend lands on us again.
We kickstart your weekend this week looking at the Safety position at the Dallas Cowboys and look at one of the greatest Cowboys Safeties-Darren Woodson ✭ 🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/SLe7cxHRUf
— UK Cowboys Fans (@UKCowboysFans) March 19, 2021
Darren Woodson’s glory years in the NFL were from 1994 to 1998.
He had 317 solo tackles, 8 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 14 interceptions during that stretch.
He was more of a ballhawking safety from 1994 to 1996. Twelve of his 23 career interceptions came during that span.
Woodson evolved into an effective pass rusher from 1996 to 1998. He had eight of his 11 career sacks during that three-year period.
To nobody’s surprise, Woodson became a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection and five-time Pro Bowler from 1994 to 1998.
He also earned his third Super Bowl ring in 1995 after the Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX. It was Dallas’ fifth Super Bowl Trophy in franchise history.
Woodson earned a hefty paycheck prior to his fifth year in the pro ranks.
He signed a six-year, $18 million deal on February 15, 1996 that made him the NFL’s highest-paid safety at the time.
Dallas hardly resembled the dominant team it was in the early to mid-1990s in the next five seasons. From 1996 to 2000, the Cowboys averaged eight wins per season.
However, they made the postseason three times during that five-year stretch. The farthest they advanced was the NFC Divisional Round in 1996.
While Woodson continued playing at a high level, injuries took a toll as his pro football career wound down.
Woodson sat out the final five games of the 2000 NFL season due to a fractured forearm. He missed six games because of an abdominal injury he sustained against the Indianapolis Colts six years later.
The Cowboys placed Woodson on their physically unable to participate list on September 6, 2004 due to a herniated disc injury. He remained inactive for the entire 2004 NFL season.
Woodson admitted to Dunne in 2020 he “went into this spiral of depression” after the Cowboys put him on injured reserve.
— 90’s Dallas Cowboys (@90s_cowboys) December 31, 2020
Darren Woodson officially announced his retirement from the NFL on December 30, 2004.
“It was special to have that star on my helmet, knowing that everywhere we go we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Woodson told The Associated Press (via ESPN). “That’s what it meant to be a Cowboy.”
The longest-tenured member of the famous Dallas Cowboys dynasty had played his last down in the National Football League.
Woodson finished his 13-year NFL career with 702 solo tackles, 11 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, and 23 interceptions.
Darren Woodson and his wife Tiffany have three sons: Darren, Jr., Jaden, and Judea Ray. They reside in the Dallas, TX area. He has a daughter Miranda from a previous marriage.
— Darren Woodson (@darrenwoodson28) May 6, 2021
He admitted to Dunne 16 years after he hung up his cleats that he had a hard time making the transition into retirement.
Woodson told GoLongTD.com in 2020 he was accustomed to the structure of a football season: waking up early, working out, paying attention to one’s diet, and enjoying the locker room banter.
It was a routine he was used to for 29 years of his life.
Woodson became an ESPN NFL analyst in 2005. He became a regular fixture on NFL Live, SportsCenter, and First Take.
He stepped down from his ESPN NFL analyst role on May 13, 2019.
In a letter Woodson wrote for ESPNFrontRow.com, he said he wanted to focus more of his time on his commercial real estate business in Frisco, TX.
This year, every time Xavier Woods makes a play, Cowboys fans may remember Darren Woodson.
Where is he now?
After a 12-year career in the NFL, he spent 14 years at ESPN before retiring. Woodson now focuses on his commercial real estate business in Frisco, Texas. pic.twitter.com/LMXbO5bTm3
— Made Sports (@MadeSportsNews) August 9, 2019
Woodson became a member of the Arizona State University Athletics Ring of Honor in October 2014. He was inducted together with former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Eric Allen.
According to Woodson’s LinkedIn page, he founded the software company CounterFind in January 2017.
Woodson was enshrined in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame on February 22, 2017. Former Dallas Cowboys greats who were previously enshrined include Troy Aikman, Larry Allen, Michael Irvin, Dat Nguyen, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Jones, and Jimmy Johnson.
Woodson confirmed he had COVID-19 in August 2020. His wife apparently contracted the virus during a business trip to Houston. When she returned home, Woodson became infected, per CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker:
“All of a sudden – five hours later after a negative test – I had chills, 102-degree temperature and had all the COVID symptoms.”
“It felt like I was in a car crash. My body was aching, sore back, legs, hard to get out of bed for a day. It affected me more mentally than physically.”
Woodson, an elite safety during his pro football career with the Dallas Cowboys, hasn’t been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet.
Woodson received consideration for Canton in 2008 and 2011.
He admitted in his YouTube documentary “Deep Blue: A Path To Safety” the oversight has bothered him as he has gotten older:
“I felt like I was Hall of Fame player when my career was over. I felt like I had done enough. But it didn’t bother me as much.”
“As I’ve aged and gotten older, it chaps my ass. It really does. I felt like I played with guys that are Hall of Famers, and I played at the same level, if not better. I do feel like I left something that’s Hall of Fame-worthy.”
Darren Woodson has remained in peak physical shape since he retired from the gridiron. He likes to do strength training and cardio, per his official Twitter account:
— Darren Woodson (@darrenwoodson28) March 22, 2021
Woodson told GoLongTD.com he cherishes his relationships with his former Dallas Cowboys teammates the most:
“I still have those relationships to this day. I just did a charity event with Charles Haley and helped with his benefit. Russell Maryland. Tony Tolbert is still one of my best friends. Kevin Smith. Larry Brown. Deion Sanders. Emmitt and I are best of buddies – we’re still doing lunch and dinners together as families.”
Not only did Darren Woodson develop a close relationship with them, but he also grew closer to their families. He knows their kids who have grown up together with his, per Dunne.