JANUARY 16, 1989
Elbert (Ickey) Woods is not bitter, even though injuries ended his football career prematurely, leaving him to make a living hawking frozen foods door-to-door in Cincinnati. "One thing I never do is ask, What if?" he says. "Things happen for a reason." Still, few people would blame him for feeling a bit cheated. After all, as a rookie running back for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1988, Woods was on top of the world, thanks to his success as a rusher and, especially, to a goofy little dance he performed whenever he scored. Following each touchdown Woods would turn to the crowd with his arms outstretched, hop twice to the left, twice to the right, spike the ball and then twirl his right index finger over his head while swiveling his hips and howling, "Woo! Woo! Woo!"
The Ickey Shuffle sparked a nationwide craze, with Ickey songs, Ickey shirts, Ickey commercials and even an Ickey milk shake. But there was substance behind Woods's style. He finished the 1988 regular season with 1,066 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns and an NFL-best 5.3 yards per carry as Cincinnati rolled to Super Bowl XXIII. "It was a dream come true," Woods says of the season. "I was just waiting to score and win the Super Bowl." There would be no Ickey Shuffle in Miami that January night, however. The San Francisco 49ers' defense held Woods to 79 yards on 20 carries and kept him out of the end zone as the Niners won 20-16.
Two games into the next season Woods tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and was lost until October 1990. During training camp in '91 he blew out the other knee and was sidelined for seven games. The following May the Bengals cut him. After having rushed for 1,525 yards and 27 touchdowns in just 37 games, Woods was out of the NFL at age 26.
Woods says he would be in better financial shape today if he hadn't taken poor advice from agents. With that in mind he is planning a new career—as an agent. "Kids these days need honest representation," Woods says. Until his company, Ovations Management, gets off the ground, he'll continue to support his family by selling beef, chicken and seafood for Buckeye Foods—and occasionally pulling out the Shuffle. He'll dance, knees willing, if it ensures a sale. "It's not demeaning," Woods says. "It's what I made famous. With a wife and six kids, I'll do whatever it takes to keep food on the table and clothes on my babies' backs." There's no dancing around that logic.