OK. He is not exactly the prototype all-American boy. "Parent's Magazine" is not doing a feature story on him here this week. He isn't an Eagle Scout, or a college graduate for that matter - although he was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. And that was mainly because the principal of
his high school, a huge man named Vurdell Newsome, took him out in the hall one day, grabbed him by the neck, and said, "You WILL get a passing grade!" in a Spanish class that was going to make or break his diploma.Newsome was kind enough this past week to point out to a TV crew that had visited Edison High in Fresno, Calif., the approximate spot on the wall to where he elevated young Elbert Woods, also known as Ickey.
"I told him to straighten up," said Newsome.
The TV crew was in Fresno because there's a lot of interest in Ickey Woods as Super Bowl XXIII approaches Sunday here in Joe Robbie Stadium. Woods is the Cincinnati Bengals running back who does the Ickey Shuffle after scoring touchdowns. He is this year's Refrigerator Perry. The Guy Getting All The Attention. Maybe you've seen him on TV lately, doing the Shuffle with his mom, Sylvia Taylor, on an Oldsmobile commercial, which wasn't a bad score in and of itself.
Sylvia is the one in the ad wearing the surprised look, perhaps even astonished. In earlier years, she spent a lot of time telling Elbert to shape up, and she didn't mean so he could play running back one day for the Bengals.
Ickey (the nickname is a derivation from his older brother's infant pronunciation of Elbert, which was reduced to "E-E") had a tendency to go with, you know, the flow. He grew up in the West Fresno projects, and he wasn't the sort of kid who always ate his vegetables. As for sports, they kept him busy, but not too busy. Blessed with bigness (6-1, 195 in high school - 6-1, 237 now) he was a teenage star sometimes. Other times he was breaking curfew. Fresno State, the local college with a ringside view, didn't risk a scholarship offer on Ickey even after Edison betsowed his degree.
The only college that did was Nevada-Las Vegas, after a Rebel scout saw Woods in a high school all-star game and persuaded UNLV to take a gamble. For three seasons at UNLV Ickey remained inconsistent and developed a long and lasting relationship with the end of the bench.
Nobody saw him score in those days, or shuffle either.
But he was inspired to change his ways by the death of a UNLV teammate, Andre Hull, just prior to his senior year. Hull was shot 12 times and stabbed 17 times in a drug-related murder in Fresno - and that, ironically, sobered Ickey into a hustling and productive senior season, during which he led the nation in rushing.
The Bengals duly took notice, selecting him early in the second round of the college draft.
This was just last summer. The rest is quick Madison Avenue history. Ickey became the bruising type running back the Bengals needed, and Ickey became the gimmick advertisers needed.
They have converged at the Miami Super Bowl. Triumphantly. Ickey's agent said this week that Ickey Enterprises will do at least $1 million in endorsements this offseason - an amount that will double Ickey's $500,000 first-year income from Cincinnati.
This man is hot. Everybody's doing the Ickey Shuffle . . . the Ickey 'Do - a hairstyle patterned after Ickey's sweptback ponytail - has replaced The Boz as the 'Do of the Day . . . and nobody in the NFL is in more demand for personal appearances than Ickey. He may even take up golf.
He is the rage of the age. A sensation that's sweeping the nation. And he did it without having to cut his ponytail, or change his nickname, or work himself to the bone, or any of that heavy discipline stuff. Elbert Woods did it his way - which no doubt accounts for his customized victory shuffle after every TD - and also accounts for his mother's enduring incredulity. If he can't quite believe it, well, neither can she.