Danny Woodhead stayed ready for NFL call

Before we get to the story of Danny Woodhead absolutely ripping through his old Jets teammates for over 100 passing yards in front of a national audience on "Monday Night Football", before the abashed Patriots running back stood at a podium after a 45-3 win and declared his loyalty to clam chowder and foghorns while the guys he once called brothers licked their wounds down the hall, you should know how he got there.

He was always a longshot in the NFL, which is why it's so easy to like him.

In 2008, Woodhead set a new NCAA rushing record while at a small Division II school in the beautifully desolate sandhills of Nebraska. Woodhead was listed as 5-feet-8 inches, muscular enough to look almost square, and he was a novelty as the NFL draft approached.

An ESPN camera set up in his home during the second day of the draft. He was interviewed intermittently as the rounds slipped by, until it was the last pick and Woodhead was still standing alone against the wall of the junior high gymnasium during the last couples dance.

It was excruciating to watch. Here's the short kid, the Division II "star," the kid picked last for dodgeball with the world watching.

That's where it ends for a lot of NFL hopefuls.

But Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum signed him as a free agent after the lights were off, yet before he could get to the second week of training camp, Woodhead tears his ACL and is out for the season.

That's where it ends for a few more.

But for some reason the Jets keep him, and Woodhead works like crazy to get right physically. His new bride Stacia, who followed him to New York from Nebraska, literally helped him hobble around on crutches back home in North Platte, saying she believed deeply this was part of a bigger plan.

So fast forward to 2009, Woodhead is back in great shape, the Jets convert him to a wide receiver (pay attention to that, it'll be important later) and start popping him in all different kinds of offensive schemes.

But when it comes to the 2010 draft, the Jets go for running back Joe McKnight out of USC. McKnight shows up on the first day of minicamp and literally vomits on the field his conditioning is so off. But teams are wary of cutting draft picks, they hate admitting a mistake.

In his third training camp, Woodhead has another great preseason showing, McKnight plays the leading role in Where's Waldo, but when the Jets need to clear a roster spot to add another wideout in Week 2, sure enough Woodhead gets waived.

Tannenbaum didn't say it outright, but he thought the odds were good that Woodhead would be back. Teams sometimes cut players with a handshake agreement -- we need the roster spot, just hang tight for a few days.

Only Woodhead was picked up by the Patriots after passing through waivers. It would be hard for a Jets fan to even read that last line without spitting out the words. Bill Belichick has been known to sign a guy before he plays their old team. It's a way to get inside information on formations and it's sportingly called gamesmanship.

"If it was gamesmanship, they would have made him a captain," Jets coach Rex Ryan said when Belichick signed Woodhead.

But here's where things finally fall into place, at least for Woodhead. Patriots running back Kevin Faulk was injured in that first game against the Jets, out for the season. So, after a career of roadblocks, there was Woodhead's path opening up right in front of him.

What follows is a story that's been told a thousand times. It's Rocky Balboa running the museum steps in Philadelphia. Maggie Fitzgerald convincing grizzled old Frankie Dunn to train her. Rudy, sacking the quarterback and being carried off on the shoulders of his teammates. Seabiscuit on the final stretch.

Woodhead has taken the open road and is running as fast as he can. The undersized, "mediocre third-down back" is running routes for heaven's sake. Remember that stint as a wide receiver? Against the Jets he took a shovel pass and burst through green jerseys for 50 yards in the icy air. It was one of three catches.

Ryan had this kid in his system for two years and cut him. Browns coach Eric Mangini had Woodhead in the building for a year but passed on him. Even the Patriots let him slip through waivers the first time.

So what can we take from Woodhead. He was not content to be dismissed as the little guy who thought he could. He wouldn't settle for a coach's assessment that 60 years ago he would have been a Hall of Famer, back when players had day jobs and carpooled to training camp. Woodhead stayed ready. For the call that came late, for the trade and for the shot that finally arrived.

His time is now.

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