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Remembering Miami: Ickey Woods, Super Bowl XXIII

Feb 4, 2010 – 12:30 PM
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Chris Harry

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Ickey WoodsThis is part six in FanHouse's nine-part series examining memorable moments and players from past Super Bowl games played in Miami. Coming next: Chargers return specialist Andre Coleman, Super Bowl XXIX.

Date: Jan. 22, 1989
Site: Joe Robbie Stadium
Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16 (MVP: Jerry Rice)

Sometimes Ickey Woods is stopped these days by perfect strangers with the same request he's been getting for more than two decades.

His answer, likewise, is the same.

"I don't shuffle anymore," he says.

Oh, but there was time when Woods shuffled his way into our hearts -- and we shuffled with him.

As a rookie running back for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1988, Woods not only became an instant star, but a celebrity too.The 6-foot-2, 231-pound Woods, a second-round pick out of Nevada-Las Vegas, rushed for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns for the AFC champions, with each score punctuated by a signature little dance that was his and his alone.

"The Ickey Shuffle" went all the way to Super Bowl XXIII against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I was doing it to have fun and to cater to our fans," said Woods, now 43, who still lives in Cincinnati where he runs a youth foundation and sells insurance. "I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, because it really took off; like it had a mind of its own."

The Bengals, who were 4-11 the year before, took off with it. They clinched a playoff spot (and home-field advantage through the postseason) on the last day of the regular season, then defeated Seattle and Buffalo to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The reward was a rematch against Joe Montana.

Seven years earlier in Super Bowl XVI at Pontiac, Mich., the Bengals helped jumpstart the Niners' dynasty by self-destructing behind four turnovers. They were also stopped on four downs inside the San Francisco 3. The Niners won 26-21.

The Super Bowl XXIII version of the 49ers wasn't as overpowering as the champs of '81 (that went 13-3) or '84 (even better at 15-1), but one Bengal helped even the playing field for the second go-round: Stanley Wilson, a terrific fullback who had come back from a cocaine addiction, suffered a drug relapse the night before the game and was scratched from the lineup. Wilson was a key part of the Cincy rushing attack, paving the way for both Woods, the power back, and James Brooks, the speed back.

"We still thought we could win," Woods said.

The game was void of offensive action for nearly three quarters -- tied 6-6 -- when Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to put the Bengals ahead 13-6. A Montana-to-Jerry Rice touchdown pass on the next series tied the score again.

After San Francisco's Mike Cofer missed a 49-yard field goal with just under minutes to go, Woods accounted for nearly half the yards on a 46-yard march that ended with a 40-yard Jim Breech field goal to put the Bengals ahead 16-13 with 3:20 to play.

An illegal block on the kickoff started San Francisco on its own 8.

Dave Lapham, a former Bengal offensive lineman-turned-color analyst, looked at the clock.

"That's too much time," Lapham said. "This guy has done this before."

And did it again.


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What a helpless feeling it was for Woods and the rest of the Bengals offense as they watched Montana commence carving, going 9 of 10 for 87 yards en route to one of the greatest drives in NFL history. The only incompletion was a deep sideline route for Rice that went through the hands of Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups.

"You know what they say about the prevent defense, right?" asked Woods, who rushed 20 times for 79 yards that night. "It prevents you from winning."

Montana's last pass was 10-yard bullet seamer to John Taylor for the game-deciding touchdown with 34 seconds to play. The 49ers won 20-16 for their third Super Bowl title in eight seasons. They'd make it four in nine the next year.

"We talk about it sometimes," Lapham said. "All of my teammates, and some of the guys I knew, we've always felt like Joe Montana has a couple of our Super Bowl rings."

But Cincinnati will always have the "Shuffle."

And for the record, Woods will break it out every now and then.

"Maybe for a charity event," he said.

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