The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines the term ‘flash in the pan’ as, “one that appears promising but turns out to be disappointing.”
In professional sports, a flash in the pan is not quite a bust.
Rather, it is an athlete that showed great promise or ability only for that promise to be snuffed out.
There have been plenty of busts in the NFL just as there have been many flashes in the pan.
“Ickey Woods” was one such flash.
— DR_Francois (@DRFrancois1) September 2, 2019
Woods came into the NFL with the Bengals in 1988 and immediately took the league by storm.
His popularity was aided by his skill set, a unique celebration dance and Cincinnati’s success during the ‘88 season.
Then, just as quickly as Woods appeared, he was gone from the league by 1992.
His certain future was cut short by injuries and fading production.
This is the story of Ickey Woods.
Early Life, a Nickname and College
Elbert Woods was born on February 28, 1966 in Fresno, California.
When Woods was still a youngster, his little brother couldn’t adequately pronounce his big brother’s name.
All that came out was a sound close to “E-E.”
After that, the Woods family started calling big brother “Ickey.”
Woods attended Edison High School in Fresno and played football with the Tigers.
He was a gifted athlete, but didn’t always put in the work to maximize his talent.
Woods also struggled to focus in the classroom, something his principal tried to shake out of him.
Vurnell Newsome, the Edison High principal, summoned Woods out of class one day and directly “encouraged” the young man in what he needed to do in his Spanish class.
“You WILL get a passing grade!” said Newsome to Woods.
Newsome explained in 1989 about his conversation with Woods, “I told him to straighten up.”
That was easier said than done.
Woods could be maddeningly inconsistent, whether it was in his classes or on the field.
He was 6’1, 195 pounds in high school and could break a huge run when called on.
Woods’ playmaking ability was obvious.
However, he would break curfew and get himself into trouble with teachers, his principal and family.
Woods was also known to run with members of the Godfathers, a gang affiliated with the notorious Bloods.
The Fresno State Bulldogs were practically in Woods’ backyard, yet they gave him a wide berth in recruiting due to his less than stellar reputation.
By the time Woods was graduating from Edison, the only major college to show interest was UNLV.
— Sports Autographs (@SportsAutograp1) January 1, 2017
During a high school all-star game that Woods was a participant in, a coach from the Las Vegas school liked what he saw.
He went back to his head coach, Harvey Hyde, and persuaded Hyde to give Woods a scholarship.
With an opportunity in hand, Woods headed to Nevada and the next chapter in his life.
As he had in high school, Woods continued to drive those around him batty after arriving in Las Vegas.
He flashed potential from time-to-time, but mostly underperformed.
His class work and field work suffered for his first three seasons as a Rebel.
During his freshman season in 1984, Woods had 11 rushing attempts for 57 yards and one score.
UNLV was doing well that year despite Woods.
The team, led by quarterback Randall Cunningham, finished 11-2 and played Toledo in the California Bowl.
It's '80s Night this Saturday @unlvfootball so let's remember our California Bowl champion 1984 squad, which featured both senior QB Randall Cunningham and freshman RB Ickey Woods. #BEaREBEL #SBSFarewell pic.twitter.com/OWDJU5rPvI
— UNLV Athletics (@UNLVathletics) September 4, 2019
During the bowl game, Woods showed up and ran the ball nine times for 53 yards and a score.
With Cunningham graduated and on to the NFL, the Rebels took a step back in 1985 and 1986.
UNLV was a combined 11-10-1 and saw a coaching change from Hyde to Wayne Nunnely between seasons.
Woods was barely a blip on the radar during this period, registering a measly 263 total yards, five touchdowns and 11 receptions for 90 yards.
Just before Woods’ senior year at UNLV, teammate and fellow Fresno native Andre Hull was brutally killed in a drug related murder in Fresno.
The incident seemed to sober Woods and he decided to shape up for his final year.
Upon returning to campus, assistant coach John Montgomery further challenged Woods to use his talent to his benefit.
“John Montgomery changed my life,” Woods said of the former UNLV assistant. “He came in and said if I do things his way, I could get to the NFL. I had 300 yards in three years. It was my senior year. What did I have to lose?”
In 1987, Woods played like a man possessed.
During a game against Pacific, Woods garnered national attention when he gained 265 yards.
In nine games, he rushed for over 100 yards and more than 200 yards in three games.
Woods toted the rock a total of 259 times for 1,685 yards (6.4 yards per attempt) and 10 touchdowns.
Rebel legend Ickey Woods will serve as #SBSFarewell Honorary Captain Saturday for @unlvfootball's Back to the '80s Night, sign $20 autographs from 4:30-6:30 at Rebel Block Party in support of his charitable foundation. https://t.co/ivxDO7l6Qb pic.twitter.com/u8lx2jrhXw
— UNLV Athletics (@UNLVathletics) September 2, 2019
He added six catches for 46 yards as well.
Woods’ rushing total that season is still ranked second highest in program history.
After the year, Woods was named a First-team All-Pacific Coast Athletic Association (which UNLV belonged to at the time).
The PCAA named Woods its Co-Offensive MVP as well. In 1998, UNLV inducted Woods into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
Drafted by the Bengals
In 1984, the Cincinnati Bengals hired former 49ers assistant coach Sam Wyche to be its new head coach.
Wyche took over for the departed Forrest Gregg, who had led the franchise to a Super Bowl berth in January 1982 against Wyche and San Francisco.
Wyche had a mind for offensive football, but the team pieces he needed were not quite there.
By the time the 1988 season arrived, the Bengals were ready for a breakthrough.
To that point, the team had underperformed, winning 10 games in 1986, then only four games in 1987.
In 1988, the pieces were in place for Wyche and Cincinnati to have a good year.
Quarterback Boomer Esiason had a steady backfield with James Brooks, Stanley Wilson and Stanford Jennings.
As a Bengal fan, we have so little to cheer for. You can’t take Brooks away from us. Here’s James Brooks & Ickey Woods. pic.twitter.com/Xr0w2WicOl
— Hank Neloms (@MongoSlade64) July 29, 2020
Esiason could throw the ball to receivers Cris Collinsworth, Tim McGee and Eddie Brown.
Up front, Anthony Munoz and Max Montoya were two pieces of a formidable offensive line.
Into this melting pot of talent came Woods.
With the 31st overall pick in the second round of the ‘88 draft, the Bengals selected the back out of UNLV.
The organization didn’t care that Woods only had one season of quality football in the desert.
They needed another punch from the backfield and Woods was their man.
1988 and the “Ickey Shuffle”
Initially, Woods had a slow start in Wyche’s two-back scheme.
Through the first five weeks of the season, the rookie had all of 62 rushing yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns.
About a week before the team’s sixth game versus the Jets, Woods flew in his mother.
Days before the game, he was dancing a jig to some music and made a declaration to his mom.
“If I score tomorrow,” he said, “I’m doing this in the end zone.”
“You better not,” she said.
“I’m a do it.”
However, the dance routine needed a little help, so Woods reached out to teammate Ricky Dixon for some pointers.
“Yo, Ick, you look kinda shaky, man,” said Dixon. “You gotta put some steps to that.”
Woods proceeded to work on his steps and checked in with Dixon before game time.
“How’s that look, Rick?” asked Woods.
“That’s it, baby. That’s the one. Gonna catch on,” remarked Dixon.
During the third quarter of the game, Wyche called Woods’ number and he scored from five yards out.
Woods commenced to shuffle a few steps to his right and hold the ball out, then a few steps left and hold the ball out again.
Then, Woods took three more steps to the right, hopped three times, spiked the ball into the turf and wagged his finger in the air.
Happy birthday to the inventor of the Ickey Shuffle, Ickey Woods! @Bengals
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) February 28, 2021
Woods’ mom, and the entirety of the Bengals fan base, loved the new dance and went crazy.
The “Ickey Shuffle” was born.
For the remainder of the season, Woods took the league by storm.
When the dust settled, he had rushed for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Woods also had 21 catches for 199 yards.
The “Shuffle” was all the rage although it incurred a lot of excessive celebration fines for Woods.
However, the Bengals were more than happy to pay.
Super Bowl XXIII
Perhaps the reason why Cincinnati was willing to pay Woods’ many celebratory fines was the fact that they were having a very good year.
After a 7-1 start, the Bengals completed the season with a 5-3 record.
Their 12-4 overall record led to a first-place finish in the AFC Central.
During Cincinnati’s 21-13 victory over Seattle in the Divisional round and their 21-10 win over Buffalo in the AFC Championship game, Woods had three one-yard touchdown runs combined.
° 1988 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP °
With NFL MVP Boomer Esiason largely ineffective, #Bengals use punishing rookie FB Ickey Woods (29-102-2) and an inspired defensive showing (10 first downs/181 yds allowed) to win a 21-10 grind over the Bills at Riverfront.
• CIN: 2nd AFC title pic.twitter.com/9TNuICU8wC
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 9, 2019
Next up was San Francisco, the same team the franchise had faced back when Wyche was their coordinator in the Super Bowl with the Niners in ‘81.
The Bengals would have their hands full with a 49er team that was a misleading 10-6 in 1988.
Joe Montana was cool as a cucumber and he had abundant talent around him.
Receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor, and running backs Roger Craig and Tom Rathman were just a few of the stars.
By halftime, the score was knotted at three apiece.
With 5:27 remaining in the final quarter, the Bengals led 16-13. That’s when Montana took over.
After getting the ball to begin the next possession, the quarterback calmly alerted his teammates in the huddle that he noticed actor John Candy near the field.
The huddled faces looked back at Montana incredulously and with great amusement that he would notice such a thing.
With surgical precision and a calm demeanor, Montana led San Francisco down field and tossed a 10-yard laser to Taylor for the game winning score.
Some of the 1988 Bengals being honored at tonight's game say it wasn't the Montana-to-Taylor pass that beat them in Super Bowl XXIII. Coach Sam Wyche, Ickey Woods, James Brooks, Bruce Kozerski, Solomon Wilcots have other explanations. https://t.co/mvO4oEZG5T pic.twitter.com/FBnOOIjmDB
— WCPO 9 (@WCPO) September 13, 2018
San Fran would defeat the Bengals 20-16.
Although he didn’t score in the contest, Woods was the game’s leading rusher with 79 yards.
In three postseason games, he had 307 yards and three touchdowns.
By all appearances, things would only get better for Woods in 1989.
Woods-mania and the Ickey Shuffle effectively ended during the second game of the ‘89 season.
During a 41-10 shellacking of the Steelers, Woods was hit hard by Pittsburgh safety Thomas Everett.
The result of the impact was a torn ACL and a 13-month rehabilitation schedule.
“It was a freak accident,” Woods said of his injury. “But accidents happen and you have got to live on. Whatever it takes to come back, that’s what I will have to do. I will try to get back as soon as I can.”
With that, Woods’ season ended with 29 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Ickey Woods is a tempting choice, but a different @bengals player tops my list of players I wish had been healthy instead of having injuries ruin his career https://t.co/SXPLeSSLFx pic.twitter.com/bF6JhUDQUe
— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) January 30, 2018
The Bengals slid backwards without their second-year back and missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
1990, 1991 and Release from Bengals
During the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft, Cincinnati selected running back Harold Green from South Carolina.
By the time Woods returned from his injury, Green was eating into Woods’ workload.
That led to less playing time and only six starts for Woods during the ‘90 season.
He totaled 268 yards on 64 carries for six touchdowns.
Woods also had 20 receptions for 162 yards.
The Bengals returned to the playoffs and defeated the Oilers in the Wild Card round.
Woods scored the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard run in the first quarter.
Cincinnati was knocked out of the postseason a week later by the Raiders.
Throwback Thursday has me hanging with my boys Eric Thomas & Ickey Woods. All 3 blessed to make Bengals First 50 list pic.twitter.com/EBP1O75KRI
— Solomon Wilcots (@SolomonsWisdom) July 21, 2017
During the 1991 preseason, Woods injured his right knee, which kept him off the field until midseason.
The writing was on the wall for Woods’ time in Cincinnati and the NFL.
With Green performing better each year (he would rush for 1,170 yards in 1992), Woods only saw 36 carries for 97 yards and four touchdowns in ‘91.
Once the season concluded, there wasn’t a lot of interest in a running back with one good year and two balky knees.
After only four seasons in the NFL, Woods was released from the team and he retired.
The stats for his career are 332 carries for 1,525 yards, 27 touchdowns and 47 catches for 397 yards.
Months after Woods’ retirement, he was named (along with a host of other Bengals players) in a rape charge that occurred in October of 1990.
Cincinnati was in Seattle for a Week 4 game on October 1 of that year.
The accuser, who was only identified as “Victoria C.” said as many as 12 Bengals players “brutally and sadistically” raped her.
Those named in the suit included: David Fulcher, Rodney Holman, Eric Thomas, Rickey Dixon, James Francis and Reggie Rembert and former players Woods, Lewis Billups, Bernard Clark and Craig Ogletree.
Running backs Eric Ball and Harold Green, and injured wide receiver Eddie Brown were accused of negligence along with former Bengals Leo Barker, Craig Taylor, Solomon Wilcots, Carl Carter and unsigned running back Mitchell Price.
In turn, three of the accused filed a countersuit claiming the alleged victim of making irresponsible claims and breaching a contract in which she agreed not to take legal action in exchange for $30,000.
Woods explained a year after the allegations surfaced that he was part of the group that gave Vivian C. the money in exchange for a deal.
As part of the deal, the players’ defense lawyers had the woman sign a document which released the players from any further liability.
Woods contended at the time that the agreement amounted to blackmail.
He also explained in court that he did not witness any Bengals players assaulting or raping Victoria C. on the night in question.
Woods said they merely paid the woman in order to protect their careers and families.
“I told her in our third (telephone) conversation we would give her $30,000,” Woods said in U.S. District Court, “but that she would have to sign a release. It was for our protection, in case she sued us. It was a lot of money. I felt it was blackmail, but I thought there was nothing we could do. Because we had families and careers, the best thing was to pay the money. She said `OK.’ “
The case was not fully settled until 2005 when a federal judge ruled in the players’ favor upholding the validity of the agreement.
Woods admits he was not very good about saving money during his playing career.
After the fame and his money dried up, Woods spent the next few years in various occupations.
These included meat salesman, salesman for security systems and owning a flooring business.
In 2006, Woods was an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Marshals of the Indoor Football League.
He has also been an owner and head coach for the Cincinnati Sizzle.
Guess who I saw @IndianaSpeed game tonight? One of my heroes, Ickey Woods coaching Cincinnati Sizzle http://tweetphoto.com/25839392
— Jeremiah Johnson (@PacersJJ) June 6, 2010
The Sizzle is a full contact women’s football team in the Women’s Football Alliance.
Woods has six children.
In 2010, one of his kids, Jovante, died suddenly at home due to complications from an asthma attack.
He was 16 years old.
After Jovante’s death, Woods founded and continues to run the Jovante Woods Foundation, which provides funding and education for asthma research and organ donor education.
“One of the main reasons we started the foundation is to educate people on how serious and severe asthma is,” Woods says. “We don’t want to lose any more lives to asthma. Fighting this deadly disease is what I do full-time.”
Most recently, Woods’s short career as a Bengal has had a mini resurgence.
In 2014, he was featured in a national Geico Insurance ad where he performed the Ickey Shuffle.
Good morning, FZN!
Happy National Cold Cuts Day!
AND…HAPPY BIRTHDAY to these three terrific Panthers:
Elyse D (2023)
Aaron J (2022)
Logan R (2022)
Here's hoping folks celebrate your birthday the way former Pro Football Player Ickey Woods celebrate cold cuts… pic.twitter.com/n7HyrcZ87w
— Joe Sutton (@FZNPrincipal) March 3, 2020
Woods and his family currently live in the Cincinnati area.