Some things are tougher than football, even tougher than playing middle guard when you are the right size to be a linebacker.
James Woody, 74, a tough guy in the middle of Doug Dickey’s defense on a very good 1968 team, is making a comeback from injuries much worse than he ever experienced on the gridiron.
According to former Tennessee tackle Jerry Holloway, who counts noses and keeps track of old Vols, James and his wife, Marsha, were at Mars Hill, N.C., for son Will’s wedding. James got up early and took their dog, Smokey (of course) for a walk. Bad things happened. James apparently slipped on wet grass, lost his balance and fell down a steep embankment.
When he didn’t return from the walk, family members went in search. They eventually found the dog, on guard at the very spot where Woody fell. James was down below, severely injured and disoriented.
Needless to say, he missed the wedding. He was in ICU. When he was strong enough, he was moved to Cincinnati, the Woody home area. A broken bone in his neck has been fused. He faces additional surgery and what may be record rehabilitation.
“He sustained several broken bones along with other injuries,” said ex-Vol teammate David Browne, a friend since college. “He’s been told he’ll have three hours of rehab daily for a long while.”
Woody thinks that much rehab sounds worse than two-a-day football practices.
As a starting sophomore, Woody was a part of a really good group – Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds,
Chip Kell, Charley Rosenfelder, Richmond Flowers, Dick Williams, Jimmy Weatherford -– big names all around.
They were part of Tennessee history. That was the year artificial turf was installed on Shields-Watkins Field. That was the debut season for John Ward and former wingback Bill Anderson as broadcast partners for the Vol Network.
Dickey called the 1968 team “the biggest surprise I had in coaching. I didn’t know that team could play that well.”
It posted an 8-2-1 record. The tie was unforgettable, 17-17 with Georgia. The Vols scored eight points after time expired.
A Bubba Wyche touchdown pass to Gary Kreis was on its way as the last second ticked off the clock. As the rules permit, Tennessee had a conversion opportunity. Wyche threw a two-point pass to tight end Ken DeLong.
Dan Jenkins, writing for Sports Illustrated, called the game “The Rouser on a Rug.”
Tennessee celebrated. Georgia was crestfallen.
Woody suffered a touch of disappointment the following spring when Dickey switched from a five-man defensive front to four. There was no middle guard. James was suddenly an orphan.
Coaches decided his natural bent for creating havoc would work at any defensive position. Woody became an end – and an excellent pass rusher. Dickey applauded.
“He was one of the most loved and toughest players we had,” said Holloway.
Browne says the Woodys are retired. James was a railroad foreman for CSX. Marsha was a teacher.
“They have a lot of people pulling for them.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org