Tavis: Ron Woodson spent 10 of his stand-out seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers before going on to help the Ravens win a Super Bowl title back in 2001. In 2009, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and now serves as one of the lead analysts for the NFL Network.
He joins us tonight during this busy week leading up to the big game from the headquarters of the NFL Network. Ron Woodson, good to have you on this program, sir.
Ron Woodson: Thanks for having me on, I appreciate it.
Tavis: I was just thinking – my pleasure. I was just thinking, I don’t know how this happened, because I shouldn’t be talking to you. You went to Purdue, I went to IU. This is not a good thing.
Woodson: Oh, yeah, that’s – oh, that’s tough. (Laughter) But you know what I tell people who went to IU?
Tavis: What’s that?
Woodson: Nobody’s perfect.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter)
Woodson: Nobody’s perfect.
Tavis: And here’s what I say to people that went to Purdue – my two favorite teams are IU and whoever is playing Purdue. (Laughter) So anyway –
Woodson: That’s about right. It’s a hated rivalry when you say that.
Tavis: It is. All right, we got that out of the way. Now on to the love part of the conversation, now that the hate’s out of the way. So let me start by asking the obvious question – what do you make of the game this Sunday?
Woodson: It’s going to be a great game. You look at two of the best defenses, first of all, in the National Football League, talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Back Packers. The number one scoring defense is the Pittsburgh Steelers and number two scoring defense is the Green Bay Packers.
There’s a lot of storylines there too, because you’ve got the Kevin Green, who’s the outside linebacker coach for the Green Bay Packers, you’ve got Darren Perry, who’s the defensive back coach for the Green Bay Packers. Both those guys played for the Pittsburgh Steelers back when I played there.
Also, Dom Capers, who is defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, he was in Pittsburgh when I was there in ’92 for ’92, ’93, and then he left. Then also we have to remember that Mike McCarthy, his family’s from Pittsburgh. So there’s a lot of storylines there.
I think it’s going to be a great game because you have two of the best defenses in the National Football League. I don’t think it’s going to be a high-scoring game, but it’s going to be a hard-hitting game, Tavis.
Tavis: They obviously have qualified to be in the game and so they’re there. The question is whether or not these are the two best teams. Did the two best teams make it to the Super Bowl this year, you think?
Woodson: Well, a lot of times the records don’t indicate who’s the best team, at least in my eyes. I’ve been saying since probably mid-season the Green Bay Packers are the most dangerous team in the NFC. I believe that wholeheartedly, and it’s because the defense was playing that much better as the season went on, and they have a quarterback that’s really hot.
He’s really good, Aaron Rogers. He’s playing really good football. They have a receiving core that’s outstanding. To me, in my eyes, even back then they were the best team in the NFC, and then when you go to the AFC you talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers, I really thought it was going to be the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens, and I sprinkled in a little bit about New England, because I knew the Pittsburgh Steelers had trouble beating the New England Patriots.
But what happens, that New England loses to the Jets, the Jets go down there and lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Baltimore Ravens. So at the end of the day in the AFC, I think the best team did go to the Super Bowl and represented the AFC.
It’s going to be a great game. I think two of these teams are very similar on the defensive side, a little different on the offensive side, because I think the Green Bay Packers are more explosive and score a lot of points against any defense.
Tavis: You mentioned Aaron Rogers earlier. What do you know about these stories we’ve been hearing of late? Of course, when you get to days before the big game, all kind of stories start to swirl. But the word is that he’s hurting just a little bit. In that game against the Bears he took a couple of good hits, did not throw a touchdown later in the game, after being hit by the play that everybody’s been talking about. So what are we to make of the story that Rogers may be hobbled just a little bit?
Woodson: Well, the good thing about this is that he has two weeks to recover, and he did take a shot against Julius Peppers. Julius Peppers took a nice shot, hit him in the chin, made his lip bleed a little bit. Julius Peppers got fined for that hit.
But once you have 14 days to heal, I think he’s going to be fine. Most guys – he didn’t have a concussion, he looked great at the end of the game, even though he didn’t throw a touchdown pass. But I think he’s a gritty guy, he’s from Chico, California. He went to a community college before he went to Cal Berkeley.
This guy has been through it. He understands what it’s like to win. He wants to be a part of it. He was a fan of the old 49ers when Joe Montana and Steve Young was there. So he understands about winning football and he took that to Green Bay. He’s playing great football right now.
Tavis: Speaking of storylines, you mentioned a number of storylines earlier, Ron, and I’m glad you walked through them, because there are so many storylines that many people might not even be aware of. There’s another I want to add to the list and get your take on this.
I’m excited about the game this Sunday because it celebrates something very unusual in sport, and that is race and class. By race and class, I mean this: You obviously have an African American coach, Mike Tomlin, who is in charge of the Steeler team, 38 years old, the youngest coach, the first African American to take two teams to the Super Bowl.
That’s a great story about what happens when you give people of color a chance not just to play the game but to coach the game, and I love the Rooney family for that Rooney rule that allows this to happen now hopefully more often in the future.
There’s the race element, but then there’s the class element. Green Bay, the one team that doesn’t have a super-rich owner who’s using this as a write-off – 112,000 shareholders. The community owns this team. I love the celebration of race and class in this game, although ain’t nobody talking about it.
Woodson: We really don’t like talking about especially the race aspect of it because they have the Rooney rule in place in the National Football League, and the sad thing about it is that we need the Rooney rule in the National Football League.
They don’t want to hire, or it seems like at times the best coach is not hired. But the great thing about it is that you’re going to give minorities opportunity to interview, and if anybody’s ever talked to Mike Tomlin personally, this guy makes you feel good about yourself.
I remember when I first met Mike, the first thing he said about me or the first thing he said to me was that hey, you guys set the standard in the National Football League, you set the standard here in Pittsburgh, and now we need to live up to that standard.
When I got there to Pittsburgh, we knew that we needed to live up to the standard they had back in the ’70s, with Chuck (unintelligible) team who won four Super Bowls.
So he’s a great man with his words, he’s a great motivator, and then the flip side of that, you go to Green Bay, you talk about a small town who don’t have a lot of money and they love the Green Bay Packers. Very similar to Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh is a little bit bigger city. Those two storylines you just talked about I think are going to be great. Nobody wants to talk about Mike Tomlin because everybody thinks we’ve gotten over this issue about race and head coaches having opportunities, but I would still think that we still need to talk more about it because we don’t have that many general managers who are Black, we have no owners of color yet.
So hopefully one day we’ll get to that point that we won’t even have to have a Rooney rule and that we can get past the race looking at head coaches or who can be the best head coach in the National Football League.
Tavis: Whatever race these owners might be, this thing may shut down the minute the Super Bowl is over, over this collective bargaining agreement. The owners have one point of view, the players have another. Talk to me about it.
Woodson: I think it’ll be a sad day if the National Football League went to a work stoppage, and this is a great product. Matter of fact, it’s the sport that everybody wants to watch and be a part of and go to the games.
To be in this aspect – because I came in ’87. There was no free agency, we only had plan B for agency. The money was okay, it wasn’t like it is today. I think really to break up the golden goose and make that golden goose, put him in the pen and you can’t let him lay any more golden eggs, it’d be a shame.
I think what has to happen, because the fans don’t feel sorry for the players or the owners, because both of these guys, both parties are making a lot of money. Now you’ve got to ask yourself, can both these parties put their egos aside and do what’s best for the National Football League, and that’s continue to play football.
Hopefully, that happens. March 3rd is the day that the collective bargaining agreement ends. Hopefully they can push that back, they get something worked out and eventually they’ll play football this year.
Tavis: So there’s great debate, as you know, about whether or not we ought to add two games to the schedule. Two-part question here – one, what’s your take on whether or not there ought to be two games added, number one, and number two, at what point do you start to dilute that great product that you just referred to the NFL as if you add more games than can be handled by the players or the fans?
Woodson: Well, I think there has to be a give-take. You look at adding two more games to the regular season and have 18, and for the last several years they’ve talked so much about protecting the players, protecting the players.
The Green Bay Packers, who are going to the Super Bowl, put 15 guys on IR this year. That’s the most in the National Football League this year – 15 guys – and they only had 16 games. So if you move to 18 games, how do you protect the players?
So I think there has to be a give-take. If you give two more games in and you have 18 games, I think you have to cut back your OTAs, I think you have to add to the roster, because you have 53 guys on the roster. So I think you have to add that in, you have to expand the roster to maybe 60, so now you have more to pull from.
But I just think there has to be a give-take. I think it’ll be a tough sell to have 18 games on the schedule, because you keep talking about safety, concussions, hits to the head, and you want to add two more of those games – it’s a violent, tough sport, and I just don’t think that’s going to buy and sell, and I don’t think any of the players who are playing in the game today really want that to happen.
But if it can be a mutual compromise, I think both teams and both parties can benefit from it.
Tavis: Right quick here, about 30 seconds to go, we talked about one quarterback in the big game, Aaron Rogers. The other, for your former team, the Steelers, Big Ben.
Talk to me very quickly about how this season started for him with all the drama that he quite frankly brought on himself, but yet he puts his team back into the Super Bowl one more time.
Woodson: Yeah, you know what, he needed to grow up, and he did grow up. Everybody in the locker room said he has changed his ways, for the most part, and that’s a great thing. He’s always been a really good quarterback and he’s on the verge of being a great quarterback. If he can go to the Super Bowl and win that game, I think that puts him on that upper echelon of quarterbacks in the National Football League.
Week in and week out we see that Ben Roethlisberger, he can get out of the pocket, he makes a lot of plays for his football team, he makes plays down the field, and that’s one of the main reasons they’re back in the Super Bowl, because they have a quarterback who understands how to prepare and how to win the big games.
Tavis: Lead analyst for the NFL Network, NFL Hall of Famer Ron Woodson. Rod, thanks for sharing your insights. Good to have you on the program, and have a great week.
Woodson: Tavis, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Tavis: My pleasure.
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