Nebraska native Danny Woodhead — at peace with retirement — changed the NFL landscape

Nebraska native Danny Woodhead — at peace with retirement — changed the NFL landscape
World-Herald News Service

Over a few days last week, Danny Woodhead and his wife were telling their oldest child that dad had been released by the Baltimore Ravens and then that he was retiring.

The reply both times from 6-year-old Gia was the same: “Yes!”

“And you know what? That makes me smile,” Woodhead said Saturday from Baltimore. “She knows she’s gonna go home, and be around grandma and grandpa, and be around cousins and uncles and aunts … and that’s what life’s about.”

Saying he was beyond grateful for 10 years in the NFL — a pro career that few would have predicted considering the route he took — Woodhead decided to call it quits although some teams showed free-agent interest in the 33-year-old running back out of Chadron State and North Platte, Nebraska.

“When it came down to it, I really feel like God was giving me an overwhelming amount of peace about going on to the next chapter of my life, so let’s do it,” he said. “If I have a peace about it, then that’s probably something I should do.

“Anyone who knows me, that’s more important than anything — my faith and what I feel like God is telling me or showing me. I feel like he 100,000 percent told me: It’s time.”

Woodhead finished his NFL career with 2,238 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The 5-foot-8, 204-pounder also caught 300 passes for another 2,698 yards and 17 TDs during time with the New York Jets, New England, San Diego and Baltimore.

Ross Tucker of SiriusXM NFL Radio and Westwood One said Saturday on Twitter: “When Danny Woodhead first came into NFL nobody was quite sure what to do with him/where to play him. Now every team tries to make sure they have at least one Woodhead-type. A lot changes in 10 years.”

Injuries set him back along the way: He missed all of 2008 after suffering a torn ACL in his first exhibition game, and in three of his last four seasons he played eight games or fewer. But he made it as an undersized back who was neither drafted nor invited to the NFL combine despite his record-breaking success at NCAA Division II Chadron State.

“I hope people think I’m a good player, but what I want to be remembered for more is did I treat people right?” Woodhead said. “I want to be known as a good dude — somebody who was there for others, who would laugh and joke and have fun — and not just be remembered as a football player. Because at the end of the day, is that really the focus in our lives? For me it’s not.”

As the Woodheads return to their home in the Omaha area, his focus now turns to his four young kids.

“It’s time to be a dad,” he said. “It’s not time to be a football player. I’m hoping I’ve been doing a good job the last six years of being a dad, but it’s a little more time to be focused on being a dad and being a husband. And that excites me more than anything in the world, that I get to pour myself into my kids and everything that’s in their life.”

Woodhead first announced his decision late Friday with an Instagram post, thanking family and coaches and a long list of others for their help along the way. He said his wife, Stacia, would have been OK with him trying to play another season, but it wasn’t hard to take a step back and see what he felt was best.

“If you can live some sort of normal life, if I can do that, why not?” he said. “It’s not always about what’s best for me, what I want to do. Do I still love the game of football? Heck, yeah, I do. But it’s time to leave, and I’m beyond OK with that.”

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