Damien Woody was always there at his locker after games, ready to answer questions after a big win or even a disappointing loss.
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And most of the time, the big offensive lineman did it with a smile.
Woody officially announced his retirement from football after 12 seasons Friday and will join ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. It should be a smooth transition for the former Jets, Lions and Patriots player.
”Retiring for any athlete is hard, and you just never expect this day to happen,” Woody said during a news conference at the Jets’ training facility. ”But the one thing is, I’m really looking forward to life after football, especially my body.”
Woody, 33, spent the last three seasons playing right tackle for the Jets, but was released before the NFL lockout began in March. He contemplated returning for a 13th NFL season, but decided to move forward with his plan to get into broadcasting.
He has six kids at home and a seventh on the way.
”I’m here to sign a one-year contract for wide receiver,” Woody said with that familiar grin as his wife, Nicole, laughed. ”I heard they need a little help with guys being banged up. I’d definitely be the biggest wide receiver in the league.”
The 6-foot-3, 330-pound Woody started as a Pro Bowl center in New England and later played guard and tackle.
”I don’t know if people realize how competitive D-Wood is because he’s always got that smile on his face,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ”He’s a guy that’s going to be involved in this game for a long, long time. He’d get the tough assignments and never flinched one bit. … You could fit him anywhere across the line, and that’s unusual.”
Woody was drafted by the Patriots in the first round out of Boston College in 1999 and helped New England win two Super Bowls. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2002.
Woody played right guard for most of his four seasons in Detroit after signing as a free agent, but moved to right tackle late in the 2007 season.
Even though he had played only five games at the position, the Jets signed Woody to be their right tackle the following year. He quickly mastered the position and helped anchor an offensive line that was regularly considered to be one of the league’s best.
”They took a chance on me,” Woody said. ”They signed me to a big deal when I came over and that’s a big leap of faith right there, especially at a critical position.”
Wayne Hunter is slated to start at right tackle after filling in nicely for Woody at the end of last season.
Woody served as a mentor to younger players on the Jets’ offensive line, including center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. He was solid during his years with the Jets, but was beset by injuries late last season. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in a game last November and played through the pain for the next two games before re-injuring it.
Woody had arthroscopic surgery to repair the ligament and sat out the last three regular-season games. Woody returned for the wild-card victory at Indianapolis, but his season ended after he blew out his left Achilles’ tendon against the Colts.
”I think it shows his character,” Mangold said. ”For as many years as he played in this league, to be going out there and fighting through injuries shows the way he cares about the guys in the locker room and wants to help us win. He’ll be missed.”
Woody spent the offseason rehabilitating his injuries and thought about playing again. The Jets were interested, and so was Woody, but he instead chose to start his next career.
”I really appreciate what you guys do for a living,” he told a roomful of reporters. ”It’s a tough business, and I’m joining it.”
He will appear on several ESPN studio programs starting in September.
”Damien’s play on the field, leadership in the locker room and understanding of the game earned him the respect of his peers,” said Seth Markman, ESPN senior coordinating producer for NFL studio shows.
That doesn’t mean his former teammates won’t razz him if he comes to them with a microphone in hand.
”He needs to get polished up,” Mangold said, smiling. ”I can’t wait. The first time he comes here and tries to interview us or something, we’re definitely going to give him the business. It’s going to be fantastic.”