BY GEOFF HOBSON
TAMPA, Fla. _ It's the Super Bowl, so why not dream?
What if Paul Brown Stadium's grass field and Rod Woodson's free agency had come on line together in the spring of 1997?
Would Woodson be the hub of Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau's re-tooled defense that season LeBeau returned to Cincinnati from Pittsburgh?
"I very well might have been. I just might have been with Dick LeBeau," said Woodson in the reality of Tuesday's Super Bowl Media Day glare. "I love Dick LeBeau. But I didn't want to play on (the Cinergy Field) turf."
Reality is Woodson starting for AFC Central rival Baltimore the last four seasons, including this Sunday's Super Bowl at free safety.
For five seasons in Pittsburgh, when LeBeau was the Steelers' secondary coach and then defensive coordinator mentoring a young assistant coach named Marvin Lewis, Woodson emerged as one of the NFL's all-time cornerbacks when he was voted to the league's 75th anniversary team.
Woodson even asked LeBeau to help direct his workout at Purdue for all the other NFL teams as the scouts flocked to probe the knee that underwent reconstructive knee surgery during the 1995 season.
Woodson opted for Lewis, freshly promoted to Baltimore's defensive coordinator.
"I looked at the talent Baltimore had and I talked to Marvin Lewis and (vice president for player personnel) Ozzie Newsome," Woodson said. "I had known them for a long time. "Knowing the defense, even though Dick LeBeau had the same defense in Cincinnati," Woodson said, "the young talent, it was so raw with no true older player who had been around the league or understanding the defense, so I thought it was a great fit for me."
Lewis is a lock to be named a head coach next week. Woodson can see how LeBeau and the other Pittsburgh coaches rubbed off on Lewis
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("He says all the things they did every day, so I've been listening to the same stuff since 1992,") but he doesn't know why it took LeBeau until age 63 to get a head coaching job.
"Dick's a laid-back, passive guy and personnel people think coaches like that can't win," Woodson said. "But it's not true. I don't understand why you have to sell yourself. What you do in the meeting room and what your players do is what should sell yourself and not going out there and be like a used car."
Woodson saw the Bengals who played for Bruce Coslet Sept. 24 in Baltimore's 37-0 win and the Bengals who played for LeBeau in the Ravens' 27-7 win over the Bengals Nov. 5 and said there was a clear difference.
"Oh yeah, they respect him," Woodson said. "If players respect the head coach, they play harder."
Woodson figures he played in just 16 to 18 plays for the Steelers in the Super Bowl XXX loss to the Cowbys, his only appearance of the '95 season after he ripped up his knee in the opener.
That Pittsburgh defense was good. "Blitzburgh," dominated the NFL.
But this Ravens defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in two years and allowed the fewest points ever. . .
"Our front four is probably a little more solid than Pittsburgh," Woodson said. "We stop the run tremendously well. We're so consistent. There's so much belief in this team. . .We had team speed in Pittsburgh, but I think we use it more here. I think it's the front four that sets up apart."