Former Raven safety Rod Woodson was forever enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame yesterday in Canton, Ohio as a Pittsburgh Steeler – just the way he wanted.
But despite going in on the black and gold side of one of the NFL's most divisive rivalries, Woodson and the Ravens owe each other much gratitude.
The Ravens gave Woodson his only Super Bowl ring in 17 years in the league, and Woodson gives the Ravens their first-ever player accepted into the Hall of Fame.
So, for one day, the Ravens, the Steelers and their fans had to find common ground and applaud arguably the greatest defensive back to ever play the game.
Woodson was drafted by Pittsburgh in 1987 and played 10 years in the Steel City. He went to the playoffs six times with the Steelers, reaching one Super Bowl in 1995 after having reconstructive knee surgery during the season.
The Steelers lost in that Super Bowl to the Cowboys, however, and Woodson defected from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in search of a ring in 1997. He came to Baltimore the next season, finally winning his first and only championship in 2000 during a four-year stint with the Ravens.
Still, Woodson said people should recognize him as a Steeler.
"My first 10 years in Pittsburgh really defined my career," Woodson said. "I spent four years in Baltimore and got a Super Bowl ring. I'm very happy and proud to be a Baltimore Raven, but Pittsburgh gave me my opportunity to come in the league in 1987. Unfortunately, we never won a Super Bowl."
Woodson's 71 career interceptions place him third on the all-time list. But perhaps what the 11-time Pro Bowler will most be remembered for was being among the first and best defensive players to also be a great offensive weapon.
Woodson holds the record for most career interceptions returned for a touchdown with 12 – five of which came with the Ravens -- and the record for most career interception return yardage with 1,483 yards. Woodson snatched 20 interceptions in four years with the Ravens, including a league-high seven in 1999. He returned five of the 20 for touchdowns.
"I just think it's a mindset you need to have to have as a defender," Woodson said. "To me, the most dangerous defender is the defender with the ball in his hands."
Ravens safety Ed Reed has since carried on Woodson's knack for scoring. Reed has five career interceptions returned for touchdowns in seven years, including the two longest in NFL history.
"I think Ed is more aggressive than I was," Woodson said. "He wants to return every single ball he gets in his hands for a touchdown."
Woodson made sure to include the Ravens in Saturday's induction speech. He thanked former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis for bringing him to Baltimore to provide leadership to the Ravens' talented but young defense. He thanked General Manager and Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome and linebacker Ray Lewis for making him part of "arguably one of the best defenses to ever play in the National Football League," in 2000. Woodson even said he loves "Raven nation."
But it was clear in his speech that Woodson's allegiances remained with Pittsburgh long after he departed.
"I want to say thank you to the Rooney family -- a great, great family," Woodson said. "The Steelers are arguably one of the best, if not the best, sporting franchises because of their family. I want to thank you for 10 wonderful years."
Woodson's children wore a jersey from each of the different teams for which Woodson played. But behind them was a crowd filled with Steelers No. 26 jerseys and Terrible Towels.
"To the Steeler nation, thank you for accepting me, for cheering me on," Woodson said. "And after I left, for booing me. I'm serious for booing me. If you cheered me when I put on a Ravens uniform, I think I would have lost a little respect for Steeler nation. So I'm glad you booed me, because you should."
Now boos are no longer needed. Woodson is back in the black and gold forever and the Steelers, the Ravens and their fans can still applaud.