Willie Wood

Last updated

Willie Wood
Willie Wood Packers.jpg
No. 24
Position: Safety
Personal information
Born:(1936-12-23)December 23, 1936
Washington, D.C.
Died:February 3, 2020(2020-02-03) (aged 83)
Washington, D.C.
Height:5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Weight:190 lb (86 kg)
Career information
High school: Armstrong (Washington, D. C.)
College: USC
Undrafted: 1960
Career history
As a player:
As a coach:
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Interceptions:48
Interception yards:699
Def touchdowns:2
Player stats at NFL.com

William Vernell Wood Sr. (December 23, 1936 February 3, 2020) was an American professional football player and coach. He played as a safety with the Green Bay Packers in the National Football League (NFL). Wood was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a nine-time All-Pro. In 1989, Wood was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. [1] [2]

Contents

Wood played college football for the USC Trojans, becoming the first African-American quarterback to play in what is now the Pac-12 Conference. Undrafted out of USC, he was granted a try-out with Green Bay. Wood changed his position to safety in his rookie year, and played for the Packers from 1960 to 1971, winning five NFL championships. He later coached in the NFL, World Football League (WFL), and Canadian Football League (CFL).

College career

After graduating from Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. in 1956, [3] Wood went west and played college football in southern California, playing his freshman year at Coalinga Junior College, where he was a junior college All-American. [4]

He transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1957 and played for the Trojans under first-year head coach Don Clark. [5] While there he was the first African American quarterback in the history of the Pacific Coast Conference and its successor AAWU, now the Pac-12 Conference. [4] Wood also played safety.

As a junior in 1958, he was sidelined with an injured shoulder, [6] and as a senior in 1959, he separated his right shoulder and missed several games. [7]

NFL career

Wood was not selected in the 1960 NFL draft, and wrote a letter to head coach Vince Lombardi to request a tryout; [8] the Packers signed him as a rookie free agent in 1960. After a few days with the quarterbacks, he requested a switch to defense and was recast as a free safety, and was a starter in the season. He started until his retirement in 1971.

Wood won All-NFL honors nine times in a nine-year stretch from 1962 through the 1971 season, participated in the Pro Bowl eight times, and played in six NFL championship games, winning all except the first in 1960.

He was ejected for bumping back judge Tom Kelleher while protesting a call during the third quarter of the 1962 NFL Championship Game vs. the New York Giants

Wood was the starting free safety for the Packers in Super Bowl I against the Kansas City Chiefs and Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders. In Super Bowl I, he recorded a key interception that helped the Packers put the game away in the second half. [9] [10] [11] In Super Bowl II, he returned five punts for 35 yards, including a 31-yard return that stood as the record for longest punt return in a Super Bowl until Darrell Green's 34-yard return in Super Bowl XVIII. He led the NFL in interceptions and punt return yards in 1962. [12]

Wood finished his 12 NFL seasons with 48 interceptions, which he returned for 699 yards and two touchdowns. He also gained 1,391 yards and scored two touchdowns on 187 punt returns. He holds the record for the most consecutive starts by a safety in NFL history. [13]

Wood retired as a player after the 1971 season; [14] he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, [1] [2] [5] and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1977. [15]

Coaching career

After retiring as a player in January 1972, [14] Wood became the defensive backs coach for the San Diego Chargers. In 1975, he was the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Bell of the WFL and became the first African-American head coach in professional football of the modern era in late July, days before the first game of the season. [16] The Bell's season lasted only 11 games when the league folded in October. [15]

Wood was later an assistant coach for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL under Forrest Gregg, a Packer teammate. When Gregg left after the 1979 season for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, [17] Wood became the first black head coach in the CFL, but after an 0–10 start in 1981, he was fired. [18] [19]

Personal

His son, Willie Wood Jr., [4] played for (1992–1993) and later coached the Indiana Firebirds in the Arena Football League, after coaching at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. Wood Jr. also served as the wide receiver/defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League. [20]

Wood later lived in Washington, D.C. and underwent replacement knee surgery. [21] In his later years, he had dementia. [19] [22] [23] Wood died of natural causes on February 3, 2020 at an assisted living facility in Washington, D.C. at the age of 83. [24] [25]

In March 2012, a block of N Street NW in D.C. ( 38°54′26″N77°00′43″W / 38.9072°N 77.012°W / 38.9072; -77.012 ) was named "Willie Wood Way." [26]

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References

  1. 1 2 Clines, Frank (August 3, 1989). "History wants him". Milwaukee Journal. p. 1C. Archived from the original on May 13, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  2. 1 2 Lea, Bud (August 5, 1989). "A dream is fulfilled for Wood". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. Archived from the original on May 17, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  3. "Southern Cal pins Rose Bowl hopes on D.C. quartereback". Baltimore Afro-American. November 8, 1958. p. 30. Archived from the original on May 6, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 Kartje, Ryan (February 4, 2020). "Willie Wood, USC's first black quarterback and a Packers great, dies at 83". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  5. 1 2 "Packers' Wood, Raiders' Shell in Hall of Fame's class of 89". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. July 16, 1989. p. C7.
  6. "Trojans to meet Tar Heels tonight". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. Associated Press. October 3, 1958. p. 13. Archived from the original on May 13, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  7. "Trojan QB injured; lost most of season". St. Petersburg Times. Florida. Associated Press. October 2, 1959. p. 6C. Archived from the original on May 9, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  8. Lea, Bud (January 27, 1989). "Wood's determination is rewarded". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. Archived from the original on May 12, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  9. Kuechle, Oliver E. (January 16, 1967). "Interception vital". Milwaukee Journal. p. 15, part 2. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  10. "Wood's steal changed our plans: Stram". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. January 16, 1967. p. 1, part 2. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  11. Clines, Frank (August 3, 1989). "Wood shrugs off interception". Milwaukee Journal. p. 6C. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  12. "Willie Wood Stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  13. "Packers legend, Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Willie Wood dies at age 83". CBSSports.com. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  14. 1 2 "Packers' Willie Wood retires, looks to head pro coaching job". Tuscaloosa News. Alabama. Associated Press. January 20, 1972. p. 11. Archived from the original on May 10, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  15. 1 2 Lea, Bud (January 24, 1977). "Willie Wood deserved a better fate". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. Archived from the original on May 15, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  16. "Willie Wood named coach of the Bell". Bangor Daily News. Maine. Associated Press. July 30, 1975. p. 22. Archived from the original on April 26, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  17. "Argonauts tab Wood". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. January 4, 1980. p. 26. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  18. "Toronto fires Willie Wood". Afro-American. Baltimore. September 26, 1981. p. 10. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  19. 1 2 Woods, Paul (January 30, 2013). "Paying homage to Super Bowl trailblazer Willie Wood". Toronto Sun. Canada. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  20. Horton, Gary. "Move to Cleveland breathes life into franchise". espn.com. ESPN, Inc. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  21. Pennington, Bill (February 4, 2016). "Willie Wood Made the Most Memorable Play of Super Bowl I. He Has No Recollection". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  22. Maske, Mark (March 16, 2007). "He's in need, but too proud to beg". Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 20, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  23. Johnson, Greg (October 17, 2007). "They're lining up on his side". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 18, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  24. "Former Packers safety Willie Wood dies at 83". Green Bay Packers . February 3, 2020. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  25. Silverman, Hollie. "Willie Wood, former Packers safety and Hall of Famer, dies at 83". CNN. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  26. Stewart, Nikita (March 21, 2012). "NW block named for former NFL standout Willie Wood". Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 2, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2016.