Pierre Woodsused to play in front of 100,000 almost every week in college. He then defied considerable odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie. A season later, he played on the biggest stage in pro football – the Super Bowl – for a worldwide audience of millions.
On the verge of his fifth NFL season this year, he was among the final cuts by the Patriots at the end of the preseason. So, he went back to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to work out.
And, simply, to work.
He took a job as a groundskeeper, cleaning up around the prestigious Ann Arbor campus where he was once a gridiron star. His rags-to-riches story appeared to undergo a tragic plot twist.
The experience may have been humbling to most players, but for Woods, who always maintained that he never took his glamorous gig for granted, it was a reinforcement of his beliefs. And, in a small way, a source of pride.
"I stayed humble, you know what I mean?" he told reporters upon his return to Gillette Stadium Wednesday. "It doesn't make a difference. It was something to do. I didn't want to collect unemployment, so … it's work."
Since early September, Woods has worked, while waiting for his phone to ring. He went so far as to install a waiver wire in his home so he could track transactions around the league. The calls, however, were few and far between.
He had one workout for an NFL team – the Kansas City Chiefs – a few weeks before the Patriots re-signed him. That was it.
Through it all, Woods claimed he never lost hope that he'd one day be back in the NFL.
"You've got to keep the faith, man. Whether it happened or it didn't, I'm here again," he reasoned.
"You just don't think like that. You have to stay positive, I had positive people around me, the people that were real and have been real. Once you stop playing or you're out, there's a lot of people that stop calling. So those people that stopped calling, I know where they are. I ain't going to [worry about it]. I know it's a blessing to be back and I'm here to work."
In his four previous seasons as a Patriot, the 6-5, 255-pounder appeared in 52 games, registering 48 tackles on defense and an additional 62 on special teams. He started eight of those at outside linebacker, all in the past two seasons. But he could never consistently produce as a defender, and with a wealth of special teams contributors, Woods became expendable.
The linebacker roster, particularly on the outside, has been paper thin all year, with just four true players at that position. So, when the Patriots decided to part ways – for the second time this year – with former third-round draft choice Shawn Crable, Woods was given a second chance.
"It feels good to be back. I'm real excited," said Woods.
He also insists he's prepared, having worked out twice a day at Michigan, watching highlights, and keeping in contact with his former Patriots teammates.
"I would text guys and tell them, you know, 'Good luck' and things like that. No ill will with me, none of that," Woods added, "so that's why I think they brought me back or not. I'm here to do a job and I'm going to do my job."
Coincidentally, Woods' opportunity comes at the expense of Crable, another Wolverine alum. After spending most of his first two seasons on injured reserve, Crable, in his third year, was cut on the eve of training camp, only to be brought back in September, first on the practice squad, then the active roster.
Crable appeared to be healthy, finally, and was contributing more and more in recent games, which made his sudden release somewhat of a stunner. Through six games in 2010, he'd accumulated four total tackles, a half a sack, and one special teams tackle.
Asked about the peculiar, midseason move, head coach Bill Belichickoffered his standard reply of doing what's "best for the football team."
Pressed further, he added, "A lot of things went into it ... just based on circumstances and the situation, all those factors, we felt like [Woods] would be able to help our team this week. Whether that's the way it is next week – that wasn't the way it was last week – I don't know."
Belichick was then asked if this decision to cut Crable a second time is an indication that he's worn out his welcome in New England, or if there's a possibility that Crable could return at some point.
"Anything's possible," Belichick answered.
Just ask Pierre Woods. PFW
Hall of a good time
Admission to The Hall at Patriot Place this Saturday, Nov. 20 is on the house. Raytheon, the Hall's sponsor, has invited guests free of charge as part of the fifth anniversary of its MathMovesU program (www.mathmovesu.com). The Hall will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Wed 11/17 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.