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He will turn 56 at the end of the month, but somewhere inside SoFi Stadium, if the Bengals capture their first Super Bowl championship, brace yourself for an Ickey Shuffle for the ages.
But does Ickey Woods still have the moves?
“Every now and again, man, every now and again,” he told The Post. “I’m old, but I ain’t that old now.”
He was a driven second-round pick who had led the nation in rushing at UNLV when he unveiled the end zone dance that captivated Cincinnati — and beyond — during the Bengals’ march 33 years ago to Super Bowl 23.
“Everybody was doing it,” Woods recalled. “I even talked to my cousin in Japan, and he told me that they were doing it in Japan. It happened to get worldwide.”
Back in 1988, he tried it out in Week 4 against the Browns before adjusting it in Week 6 against the Jets.
“I just made it up, man,” Woods said. “I flew my mom in for a game against Cleveland, and me and my two oldest kids at the time were sitting up and I was listening to some music and I just started acting silly, and I said, ‘Mom if I score tomorrow, this is what I’m gonna do.’ She was like, ‘Boy, you better not do that!’ I said, ‘I got to mom!’ So I scored and then I just jumped in the air and kinda put my hands in between my legs and stuff, and after the game, [Bengals safety] Rickey Dixon was like, ‘Woods, Woods, what was that?’ I said, ‘Man, that was my celebration dance.’ He’s like, ‘Man, that thing was wack.’ I said, ‘All right, well what you think I oughta do, put some steps to it?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, man, put some steps to it.’
“So I said, ‘OK.’ So the whole week before we get ready to play the New York Jets, the whole week I’m thinking, ‘What can I do?’ And then five minutes before it was time to go out and get warmed up, it just hit me, I said, ‘Rick, check this out, this is what I’m gonna do today if I score.’ We’ll go 1-2-3 to the right, 1-2-3 to the left, 1-2-3 back to the right, and I’m gonna hop back three times and spike the ball.’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, Ick Man, that’s gonna be live, that’s gonna be live.’ So I just tell people I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. I was blessed to be winning ballgames and we made it to the Super Bowl that year.”
A murder and dedication
The Ickey Shuffle was lucky to make it out of Fresno. The murder of his childhood friend and UNLV teammate Andre Horn changed Woods’ life.
“At that time, I guess it was crack cocaine was just starting to hit the scene,” Woods said. “He was selling that a little bit and making money. That was what I was getting ready to start doing, and start to sell narcotics and make the big money because I hadn’t done nothing in three years [at UNLV] and I figured, ‘Hell, I might as well start making some money.’ I told him that I was gonna meet him later on that night and we were gonna put together a game plan and start rolling, and then for some reason, by the grace of God, I didn’t meet up with him that night, and I get a call about 4 o’clock in the morning telling me that he was shot 19 times and they cut his throat.
“So that let me know that wasn’t the way for me, so I got back in and started eating, sleeping and sh–ting football, and was fortunate enough to have a guy by the name of John Montgomery come in, who was my [UNLV] running back coach, show that he cared for me as a human being and not a football player, and we meshed together and he told me if I do everything that he told me to and I give him 100 percent, he guaranteed I’d be a first- or second-round draft choice. I had nothing to lose at that particular time, so I did everything he told me to do and I end up being the first player taken in the second round.”
After rushing for 320 yards in his first three seasons with UNLV, he busted out for 1,658 and 10 touchdowns in 11 games his senior year.
Soon, he was a 6-foot-2, 232-pound Baby Bull who became the talk of the town and NFL Rookie of the Year, rushing for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns on 203 carries. And all seemed possible for the Sam Wyche-Boomer Esiason Bengals against Joe Montana and the 49ers — until the night before the game, when running back Stanley Wilson was discovered in his hotel room bathtub, having suffered a drug relapse.
“It was rough,” Woods said. “It hurt us. … It was time to go to the meeting room, everybody’s in there, and Stanley’s actually on his way down from what I hear, and then he claimed he left something in the room and went back to the room, and that’s all she wrote. We started the meeting without him and then Sam came down after the meeting was over, had tears in his eyes and said Stanley had a relapse. It just messed us up, man.”
There was turmoil on the Bengals sideline in the first half when Woods and dual-threat sidekick running back James Brooks could not comprehend the game plan.
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“Boomer was a good leader, man. He commanded respect in the huddle and we gave it to him,” Woods said. “I don’t know why we tried to turn into a passing team when we get to the Super Bowl. We had been running the ball 45-50 times, and then we get to the Super Bowl and turn into a passing team all of a sudden. We kinda went away from what got us to the big game. Sam got a little pissed off ’cause me and J.B. were mad, saying we need to run the ball and stop trying to pass. Sam pulled the offense to the side and said we need to stop being selfish, we can run and pass. Evidently we couldn’t, ’cause Boomer didn’t have a good day that day.”
Still, it took a 10-yard Montana touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left to shatter the “Who Dey!?” dream.
“It was frustrating ’cause we went to that damn prevent defense,” Woods said, “and the only thing it does is prevent you from winning the game.”
It ended quickly
Woods was never the same after that dream rookie season. He would rush for only 459 yards the rest of his career thanks to a pair of knee injuries. He was finished after the 1992 season at the age of 26.
“It was rough because most football players think they’re gonna play a long time, you never take injuries into consideration,” Woods said. “And then to have it snatched away from you, real life slaps you in the face. At the time, I had a wife and four kids, so I had to start a real job. And that’s an eye-opener when you go from making big money and then you have to get a real job. It was a life-altering thing but we made it through it and we survived, and we’re still here to talk about it.”
He had appeared in an Oldsmobile commercial following his rookie season, and later on in commercials for Cincinnati Bell in 2002 and then Geico. He founded the Cincinnati Sizzle, a women’s professional football team, in 2003.
“I was a salesman, sold meat door-to-door, sold cars, did whatever it took to put food on the table and clothes on my baby’s back,” he said. “I wasn’t one of those big high-ego guys where I couldn’t get my hands dirty and make sure I provided for my family.”
Do it for Cincy and Jovante
He loves these AFC champion Bengals so much he is predicting a 31-27 upset of the Rams with Joe Burrow the likely MVP.
“Just feel happy about the next 10-15 years with this kid at the helm,” Woods said. “He’s just got that it factor, man, you can’t explain. He’s got this like a Michael Jordan, like a Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, he’s just got that it factor, man. Whatever he does, it just turns to gold. I’m glad we got him. We’re gonna be good for the next 10, 15 years, man. He’s just cool under pressure, nothing rattles him. He reminds me of sort of a young Tom Brady coming up.”
He is also high on Joe Mixon.
“I love him,” Woods said. “He runs the ball hard, you gotta keep an eye on him, not only can he run the ball, he can also catch the ball, so you gotta keep eyes on him at all times. They got a plethora of weapons over there on that Bengal offense. Those guys are gonna make it tough on the Rams’ defense. That’s on the back half. If we can shore up that front half, and keep [Aaron] Donald and the boys at bay, we’re gonna have a great chance of definitely winning this ballgame.”
He runs the Jovante Woods Foundation these days.
“I lost my son to asthma 10 years ago,” Woods said. “It’s called the Jovante Woods Foundation.org, if you guys want to make a donation to the foundation. We go around raising money for asthma research and asthma education to educate the people on how severe and serious asthma really is.”
He became a Cincinnati resident after his playing days and when he is recognized, someone is bound to ask: “Let me see the Shuffle.”
“I say, ‘I don’t do it for free no more, I do it to raise money for my son’s foundation, so it’s not gonna be nothing small, dig in your pockets deep,” Woods said.
One Ickey Shuffle for Jovante, maybe, on Super Sunday.