The cult hero and the franchise back

1:40 a.m.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - The oldest child of Ickey Woods is old enough to vote. And if that doesn't make you feel old, this will.

It was 10 years ago this training camp that Woods last suited up for the Bengals. When some nameless, faceless rookie free-agent linebacker took out the last good knee Woods owned in the first 15 minutes of the season and sent the star-crossed running back into full-time culthood at the tender age of 25.

"First day of pads. Non-contact drill. Just a freak accident. It happens. Nah, I don't know who did it," said Woods at another Bengals training camp. "That was 10 years ago, man. You move on."

And so he has. He is selling pre-paid legal plans while active in his church's youth group and trying to get Jermaine, his senior at Hamilton High School, into the books deep enough for college.

Seeing Woods is like seeing that favorite uncle again. There are only good feelings and warm memories. His smile and eyes are always 1988.

Two weeks after Woods got hurt, Bengals founder Paul Brown, a man with whom Woods had a special bond, passed away. The Bengals moved on, too. At this training camp they

celebrate the coronation of Pro Bowl running back  Corey Dillon as the richest Bengal ever while he's poised to become the most prolific back in Bengals history with a 1,554-yard season.

"If the injuries wouldn't have plagued me, I probably could have been just as productive as Dillon is today," Woods said. "He's quicker than I was, but it's the same style ... the hard-nose running in the first half and run over and run around them in the second half.

"He's done things with a mediocre offensive line that an ordinary back couldn't do," Woods said, "so you know he has to be a special back."

If it sounds like Woods, is a Dillon fan, it's because he is. Which is why Mike Brown, Paul's son, admires the man.

"He's never whined or

been bitter," Mike Brown said. "He's stood up to things that have happened to him in his life with a courage and manliness that have impressed me."

Woods has always admired the Brown family, and not because Paul did the "Ickey Shuffle," at age 80 a few days before that Super Bowl.

"What I loved most about him," Woods said, "is that he could find talent under a rock. A great football man."

Mike Brown invited Woods and his kids to lunch at the dining hall Wednesday. The kids from the Ninth Street Baptist Church, where Woods helps minister the youth, have heard about Ickey, the "Ickey Shuffle," and his marvelous rookie year of 1,066 yards that put the Bengals in the Super Bowl for the last time.

"Right now we're focusing on trying to get our young men involved in the church, so we've been putting together little outings for them. I'm helping with the youth," Woods said. "I thought I'd bring them down to see the updated Bengals."

Woods is interested in this edition of the Bengals. He's always believed Cincinnati's decline began when All Pro right guard Max Montoya left in Plan B free agency before the 1990 season. In '88, Woods ripped off 5.3 yards per carry. In '90, the year after he tore his ACL, Woods got 4.2 per pop after returning for the season's seventh game.

"We lost our chemistry in that line when Max left," Woods said. "If I stayed healthy and the line stayed together, we would have done some great things. (Dillon) hasn't had the line I had. They seem dedicated to getting some lineman in here this year, so I'm anxious to how see this season goes now that he can get something done with a decent offensive line."

As it turns out, Dillon, who plays at 225 pounds, is a big fan of Woods, a 230-pounder in his prime. The Super Bowl XXIII backfield is still required viewing by running backs coach Jim Anderson, who coached both men.

"We still watch film on Ickey and James (Brooks). We've still got those cutups," Dillon said. "They went to the big dance and that's where I'm trying to get."

If all this still hasn't made you feel old, then this will. Dillon followed Woods when he was a kid and even tried the "Ickey Shuffle," a few times after he scored.

"I couldn't do it like Ickey," Dillon said. "Ickey is Ickey. An all-time favorite."

They have a little more than the Bengals in common. Dillon was the first man to break Jim Brown's single-game rookie rushing record. When Woods was a rookie, Paul Brown, Jim Brown's head coach in Cleveland, would pull him aside at practice and tell Woods he ran like No. 32.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he wold have been like Corey," Mike Brown said. "Ickey had bigger legs, but not by much. I think Ickey was fast. I wouldn't sell him short there. He was an NFL body out there. The only way I could really compare them is yards per carry and I bet they're pretty close."

Pretty good bet. The Bengals' running backs who have the best career yards per carry with a minimum 100 rushes are Brooks at 4.8, Woods at 4.59 and Dillon at 4.56.

"He's a heck of a running back," Woods said. "I think he's one of the best that have come through here and I hope he has a great season."

Maybe Dillon can have one of those years. A year like 1988, which went by so quick but never really left because it was so good.

If that doesn't make you feel young, what will?

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