Ickey Woods (right) and Kevin Walker reminisce.
Ickey Woods, who is more famous than when he was famous, still likes to laugh.
Kevin Walker, a third-rounder who was drafted a round later than Woods in that magical Guns 'N Roses year of 1988, still hears it on the golf course and at events like the one Tuesday at the press box in Paul Brown Stadium, the yard that replaced unbeaten Riverfront Stadium.
Woods and Walker are speaking at an event sponsored by a local I.T. company and the theme for the gathered vendors is internet security in this age of broadband robbery. A very smart man is droning on about something like firewalls when from the back of the room where the food is a high-pitched voice yells, "Wheeew. We got some cold cuts in here!"
No security is airtight from the hijinks of Woods as Walker beams and laughter breaks into the session like a saucy Instagram.
"See what I mean?" Walker asks.
Four years ago, it was not like this. No laughs. No events. Nothing. Just darkness in the wake of the sudden asthmatic death of the 16-year-old they called "Little Ickey."
"I contemplated suicide a couple of times in the first three or four months," Woods says. "He went everywhere with me. He was like my shadow. That was a real heartbreaker. It was real trying on me."
But Woods ended up carrying the ball one last time, straight into the teeth of jovantewoodsfoundation.org. For one thing, there were five kids left. For another, there was the idea of The Foundation and now, just as suddenly, there are a slew of causes, ranging from asthma awareness to organ donation to college scholarships.
"My kids," Woods says of why the darkness lifted. "They were depending on me. I was everybody's rock. When that happened, everybody turned to me. I had to be strong for everybody else.
"Through the foundation, we've been able to do some great things and that kind of kept me level-headed."
It's a story that needs some level-headedness because, truth be told, folks in Cincinnati get a little crazy when you mention 1988. When the Bengals climbed on the back of a rookie running back named Elbert "Ickey," Woods and 1,066 yards and 15 TDs later ended up in the Super Bowl with a touchdown dance that has been validated as iconic this fall on a Geico commercial.
Woods never tires of telling of "The Ickey Shuffle." In Cincinnati, it is still 14-carat gold.
How it started against Cleveland at Riverfront and when he only put his hands between his legs and didn't move, safety Rickey Dixon yelled at him and told him to find something else. And then how two weeks later at home against the Jets, Woods went up to Dixon five minutes before they took the field and said, "Check it out," and Dixon concluded it was OK.
Or how a few weeks later he was sitting at his locker and owner Paul Brown stopped by and said, "I don't like it, but my wife does, so keep doing it."
Woods, now suddenly 48, cheerfully tells it all today to the internet group. The Wikipedia page come to life in Bengals ball cap and an orange T-Shirt that reads, "Get Some Cold Cuts," with a picture of the '88 head-banded Ickey, a nod to the Geico commercial, where he breaks into the dance at a deli counter, just like Paul Brown did The Shuffle at a Super Bowl news conference.
After raising $50,000 for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Asthma Center and $20,000 for two college scholarships for a male and a female athlete with at least a 3.8 grade-point average, Woods knows what raises money.
"It's like this function right here," Woods says. "They call me to make an appearance. I wear something like the new cold cuts T-shirt and people ask how they can get one, I hand them a card and let them know about the web site. Everything we do since my son passed is geared to the foundation."
Woods excuses himself after arriving early. He needs to get more business cards from his truck and on his way he spies Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, just off his big 125-yard day in the win over the Ravens, walking into the locker room. He introduces himself while walking with his hand outstretched.
"Mo Sanu. Ickey Woods. What's up baby?" Woods asks as they hug. "Keep it up man. You're doing a hell of a job."
Sanu, born a year after that autumn Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle he was no Jack Kennedy and Paul Brown told Woods The Shuffle was cool, hadn't heard of Woods before he got to Cincinnati. But thanks to teammate Jeremy Hill, another rookie big back who has dusted off The Shuffle, and Geico, Sanu knew who he was meeting.
"Appreciate it. How are you doing?" Sanu asks.
"Can't complain," Woods says. "Keep working hard."
They exchange numbers into their cell phones. Woods, the savvy fundraiser, never meets a stranger. After re-stocking his supply of business cards, he's asked how he raises the money.
"Anyway I can," says Woods and that includes a PBS concession stand, a traveling memorabilia show, and meet-and-greets like this one.
The big one is the ever-growing celebrity golf tournament every first Monday in May at Heritage Club in Mason, Ohio. They had 11 groups at the first one in 2012, 19 last year, and 27 this year.
They all remember The Shuffle and Boomer Esiason and the '88 Bengals.
"The greatest play-action quarterback who ever lived," Woods says.
Woods isn't sure why the Geico commercial has taken off. It could be that he was one of the NFL's first national stars in the cable TV era. He was so fresh and different that the kids he made such a mark on are getting to be nostalgic as they turn 35-to-40. And he thinks social media is a big factor in his popularity
But Woods also knows why they remember him in Cincy.
"If I did it for a losing team, no one would have remembered," Woods says.
There was something else about that team, too. On Tuesday, Woods and Walker called it a brotherhood. Walker saw it just this summer when he lost his wife of 22 years to cancer and teammates like Woods came to his house to pay their respects and Stanford Jennings came as far as Atlanta for the funeral.
"The way those guys have supported me has been a big help to me," Walker says.
It was eerily similar to the crowd of teammates that gathered at Children's in the hours and days after Jovante collapsed.
"How are you doing?" Woods asks Walker on Tuesday.
"The holidays are coming," Walker says. "That will be tough."
"I know," Woods says. "We just try to get through it."
A serving of '88 always helps. A young lady is introduced to Woods as a girl who named her childhood cat, "Ickey."
"Well that's very nice," Woods says. "I really appreciate that."
It turns out that Erica Schmidt and her brother, living in Cincinnati's Anderson Township, got a cat that "Just Do It," Nike Christmas of '88. She was six and the names were down to Boomer and Ickey.
"Ickey was our favorite," she says.
He still is.
"It's nice," Woods says. "I've heard about things like that. How people have named a pet after me or something like that. If you go to a Super Bowl, people remember that for a long time."