The old running backs stole the show Monday at ESPN's Chalk Talk Luncheon at downtown Cincinnati's Music Hall celebrating the network's telecast of this week's edition of Monday Night Football at Paul Brown Stadium featuring the Bengals and Steelers.
Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who had double-digit 100-yard games against the Bengals during his career, drew boos as he gleefully rubbed his hands together recalling how he looked forward to playing the Bengals as he rode over the bridge to the stadium: "I knew I was going to have a good day."
Former Bengals running back Rudi Johnson also drew boos when he predicted a Steelers win and the crowd not appreciating his, "I have to be honest…"
But as he always does, former Bengal Ickey Woods drew cheers when he did, naturally, "The Shuffle," and then in the wake of Johnson's prediction pronounced, "No matter what the records are, we always seem to play Pittsburgh tough. I say Bengals, 20-17."
Woods beamed and waved ("Everybody wants to see 'The Shuffle,' '' he said) on stage, and when asked in front of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell if he would continue "The Shuffle" despite the heavy fines, he invoked the memory of late Bengals owner Paul Brown.
"Paul told me to keep doing it," he said to laughter and applause.
But Woods knows his insides are never going to be the same. It has been nearly three months since his 16-year-old son Jovante died suddenly from an asthma attack and the mornings are still the worst.
"It's hard waking up in the morning, especially because every morning he'd be in there cooking breakfast for himself," Woods said. "Before he left he'd say, 'Dad, I'm gone. I love you.' I don't get to hear that anymore."
Woods is devoting the Jovante Woods Memorial Fund and a partnership with Cincinnati's Children Hospital to not only asthma awareness, but also organ donation education.
"He saved five lives," said Woods of the organ donations. "We know parts of him are still walking around and beating in other people and helping them sustain their lives. We're coping with it in that aspect, but you never get over losing a child. … It's excruciating."
Football has helped. Jovante had just started his junior year playing for the varsity at Princeton High School and father and son had spent a lot of time working in the offseason, where the father had seen so much progress.
"To have this happen two weeks before the season was a tragedy," he said, but 14-year-old Aubrey, a freshman at Princeton and "my baby" is on the way.
"He actually had a pretty good year, he's a linebacker," Woods said. "I wake up every morning for him."
So many things have happened since that Bengals-Steelers game 21 years ago when Woods took the hit that basically ended his career. He would rip up the other knee less than two years later, but he was never the same after Steelers safety Thomas Everett took him out on the sidelines.
"Second game of my sophomore season," said Woods after that brilliant 1,066-yard freshman year. "It was a clean hit. A little low, but it was a clean hit. It was a sweep to the right end. I planted my left foot and he caught me right as I was planting."
So he has something in common with Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Both taken out early in Bengals-Steelers games with the worst injury of all, an ACL.
"It all comes down to No. 9 coming to play tonight," Woods said. "It's as simple as that. If No. 9 comes to play, we'll win. If No. 9 doesn't come to play, we lose another one."
About the only big moment Woods had after the Everett hit came on a Monday Night. His next game was in Cleveland on Oct. 22, 1990 when he scored on a one-yard touchdown late to finish off the Bengals' 34-13 rout.
"It's the ultimate stage," he said. "Everybody watches Monday night. It's the only game on. Monday Night Football is your time to shine and I hope my guys get it done tonight."
NOTES ON A NAPKIN: Also on the alumni panel were quarterbacks Jeff Blake and Kordell Stewart, the former Bengal and Steeler, respectively, best known for their deep balls. But Bettis is the guy that had everybody rolling.
Asked by co-host Mo Egger of Cincinnati's ESPN 1530 if he thought he'd be wearing his Super Bowl ring if Palmer didn't get hurt on the second snap of the 2005 Wild Card Game, Bettis smiled and said, "I guess we'll never know." …
Bettis also said he thinks the Bengals became "enamored with" wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens in training camp and got away from the running formula that paved the way to last year's division sweep…
Johnson compared this Monday-nighter to the one in 2004, Cincinnati's first MNF appearance in 12 years. The Bengals were 1-4 and were on life support and up against the 5-1 Broncos. The Bengals won, 23-10, with Johnson racing for 119 yards in getting the Bengals on track for a 7-4 finish. But he says he doesn't think the Bengals can dent this Steelers defense.
Other than that, the predictions broke down on party lines. Stewart called it 21-17, Steelers, and Bettis said Pittsburgh is going to need a late Jeff Reed field goal to win, 24-21. Blake called the Bengals by the same score...
During ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike Show from the Paul Brown Stadium West Club Lounge Monday morning, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic stayed true to form when the wife of Bengals wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard presented Golic with a pumpkin pie. Kathy Sheppard reported it was half gone by 7:30 a.m. and when Mike Sheppard arrived an hour later, he saw Golic finish it off.
Greenberg, of course, wanted no part of it since he didn't know Kathy Sheppard from Sam Sheppard, but that was OK.
"We know Mike's finicky and all that. He's what? A germaphobe? It was OK," Mike Sheppard said. "We've enjoyed the show for a long time. They don't take themseves too seriously and it's nice to hear what the former athlete Golic has to say and what the non-athlete Greenberg has to say."
The couple got a chance to meet Mike and Mike during a break and Kathy, who showed up at 5:15 a.m. to make sure she'd get a seat, got them to sign their book.