A Legend Says Goodbye

Family, fans, former teammates and media gathered Wednesday at Valley Ranch for the announcement of Darren Woodson's retirement. <BR>

The veteran safety, who ended his career as the team's all-time leader in tackles with 1,350 stops in his prolific career, has missed the entire 2004 season after undergoing back surgery.

The last link to the team's Super Bowl run in the early 1990s opened his press conference by saying he didn't want to talk about Super Bowls (he played in three) or Pro Bowls (five). Instead, he wanted to talk about the relationships he forged throughout his stellar career.

The first people he thanked were his wife, Julie, his three children (during his time away from the team while recovering from back surgery this year, he said "these three have ran me ragged"), his mother and his in-laws. He thanked Dallas owner Jerry Jones and his family, his coaches, teammates, countless team personnel, his agent, his financial advisors, the medical personnel who have helped him survive the rigors of his profession and the minister at his church.

"It's special to represent the best organization in the world -- sports .... whatever," Woodson said. "It's special to put that helmet on."

The accolades poured in. Jones called him "unselfish, reliable and dependable -- a team player first and a team player always."

Former coach Jimmy Johnson, in a statement released through the team's public relations department, said "you win with guys like (Woodson)."

"Darren was a player who could hit, tackle and take charge of a secondary," Johnson said. "He did all those things with authority. He made his presence known on the football field, but played within the scheme and played smart. He was a rookie on a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL in 1992, and the next year he became a starter. The league's No. 1 defense got better in 1993. He's a solid person, who was a very good player."

The players in attendance at the press conference were a "Who's who" of players from the Cowboys glory years from a year ago. Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Kevin Smith, Charles Haley, Chad Hennings and Russell Maryland were among those who turned out to bid farewell to their friend and former teammate.

"When he joined us, we were coming off a playoff berth the year before," Aikman said. "He was just coming out of college, where he was a linebacker, but it was clear what kind of athlete he was. I compared him a lot with Carnell Lake, who played with me at UCLA. He was a linebacker who returned kicks, which is really unusual."

Woodson's willingness to take on unusual combinations of roles, is further evidence of his singular work ethic and team-first attitude, according to Jones. Jones said that he "occasionally" has questioned his coaches over the years, often because Woodson put his health on the line by covering kicks for his entire career.

The 2004 Dallas defense has missed Woodson for many reasons: his tackling, his experience, his knowledge and because with him out, the Cowboys have had to alter the role of Roy Williams. For all of his ability -- which is considerable -- his intelligence and willingness to learn were among the qualities that impressed teammates.

"I remember when he was a rookie," Maryland said. "He had to feel his way. We knew he was a great athlete, but he had to feel his way. Coach Johnson would get after him, and you could see him mature so fast. That showed he was serious."

But perhaps more than anything, Woodson's toughness and character were his signature traits.

"I know what it's like to wake up every day in pain, and I don't wish that on anyone," Haley said. "Darren was a warrior, a Zulu. When he said to you (media) guys that whenever he put on that helmet, he played hard -- he did.

"He's a guy you want to be like -- on and off the field."

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