Former Bengal Elbert “Ickey” Woods took his bow during the Monday Night Football game halftime this week at Paul Brown Stadium. Photo by Michael Mitchell
By Conrad Clowers
He’s not the Bengals all-time leading rusher. He’s not even in the top five. He’s not considered the best Bengals running back ever. Heck, he may not even be the most talented ever. For one season, the legend of Elbert “Ickey” Woods was born. The last time the Bengals dared to go to the Super Bowl was the 1988-89 season. The team had a galaxy of stars. Boomer Esiason, David Fulcher, Anthony Munoz, and Eric Thomas. The most unlikely of stars that season didn’t ever start at the beginning of the season.
When Woods cracked the starting lineup, he took the NFL by storm. It was only partially because of his bruising running style of play. It was mainly because of a dance he would do after he scored a touchdown. When Woods would get into the end zone he started what became known as the “Ickey shuffle.’’ The dance became one of the most well-known touchdown dances of all time. It ranked amongst the best with Billy “white shoes” Johnson’s funky chicken and the Washington Redskins “fun bunch’’ dance. During the ’88 season Woods would reach the end zone 15 times calling for 15 “Ickey shuffles.’’
Woods and James Brooks formed one of the most formidable duos of running backs in history. Woods would carry the ball 203 times and gain 1,066 yards. His average yards-per-carry was 5.3. The average would end up as one of the best for one season in team history.
As Woods led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, he did not stop his dominant running style in the playoffs. He would carry the ball 20 times for 79 yards against the 49ers in Super Bowl 23. The world would not get to see the Super Bowl’s most popular player get to do the most popular touchdown dance. The 49ers would not allow Woods in the end zone in the Super Bowl. The Bengals would go on to lose the game 20-16.
The next year the team was poised to make another run at the biggest game in Western civilization. Fans were set for more shuffling from Ickey. This time Woods would not play the majority of the season. He would tear his ACL against the Pittsburg Steelers just two games into the season.
It would be the beginning of the end of a promising career. After the ACL tear, Woods was never the same. Brief returns in 1990 and 1991 didn’t pan out. He would be out of the NFL by just age 26. Though his career was one of the shortest super star careers on record it would be one of the sweetest.
This past Monday in front of a national crowd watching Monday Night Football. Woods was honored as one of the 50 greatest Bengals of all time. As expected, when Woods name was announced he did his highly popular shuffle.
These days Bengals fans don’t have much to smile about. When great memories of better times present themselves, fans savor the moment. Ickey doing the shuffle is one of those moments.