Woodson Paves Way for Ravens to Canton

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Longtime Ravens Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis may both be considered as future Hall of Famers, but a former teammate of theirs beat them to it.

On Saturday, Rod Woodson became the first ex-Raven to earn a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Playing in Baltimore from 1999-2001, the 17-year veteran was a key member of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV-winning squad as a playmaking defensive back on a record-setting unit.

It was Woodson's only NFL title over a storied career that saw stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francosco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, in addition to the Ravens.

A member of the league's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994 and an All-Decade Team performer from the 1990s, Woodson intercepted 71 passes for an NFL record 1,483 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Still, even he had to admit that he was surprised by the announcement, which was the product of a meeting between all 44 Hall of Fame voters - a group comprised of sportswriters and broadcasters.

"I'm still pinching myself a little bit," Woodson said at a news conference in Tampa, Fla.. "It's so surreal. I'm going to take it slowly and soak all of this in. Right now, it hasn't hit me. Maybe when I get fitted for the jacket, it will."

Woodson will receive his gold Hall of Fame jacket Aug. 8 during his induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

There, he'll be joined by fellow 2009 class members Bruce Smith, the all-time career sacks leader, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr., former Dallas Cowboys wideout Bob Hayes, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas and Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel.

One notable omission was Woodson's former teammate in Baltimore, tight end Shannon Sharpe.

Sharpe, who broke Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome'srecords by finishing as the all-time leader in catches (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62) by a tight end, made the final cut from 15 to 10, but did not last to the round of five.

"I was stunned," Woodson admitted. "All I kept thinking was they said the names alphabetically and I didn't hear Shannon's name. Then it hit me. They said my name.

"I'm happy, but my heart still goes out to Shannon. I thought he was a lock."

For the Ravens, Woodson started all 16 games in each of his four seasons and posted 20 interceptions and five touchdowns.

The steady production came alongside a daring career move, as Woodson switched from cornerback to safety when he first came to Baltimore in 1999.

That year, Woodson led the league in thefts, a feat he repeated in 2002 with eight for the Raiders.

But looking back on his career, Woodson continued to stress that he never played the game for personal accolades and got started in football to follow his brothers.

"I got paid to stay in shape," said Woodson. "I say it all the time: it's the best temp job you can have in the United States of America - playing professional sports."

Now an analyst for the NFL Network, Woodson is looking forward to watching the team with which he spent the longest tenure, Pittsburgh (1987-96), take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Woodson, however, expressed his allegiance to each one of his stops around the league. He also made a point to thank former Ravens owner Art Modell, current owner Steve Bisciotti and teammates like Lewis.

"It meant a lot to me that teams wanted me," Woodson said.

And after such a stellar playing career, his stop in Canton is an appropriate final call.

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