MIAMI — He will wake up Sunday morning, yawn, stretch, walk to the bathroom and pull open the shower curtain. The camera light will blind him.
“We’re live with Ickey Woods!” the TV reporter will bellow from under the faucet. “Dance for us, Ickey! Whatdya say? Just a few steps?”
He will dash out of the room and lock the door. He will join his teammates for breakfast in the lobby. He will grab some silverware, and lift the top off the tray of eggs.
“Joining us now is dance sensation Ickey Woods!” the reporter will screech.
“We’ve been in this tray all night, folks! Dance for us, Ickey? Please?”
Wherever he goes on Super Sunday, he will hear these voices. Dance for us, Ickey. Step one, step too. He is bigger than Chubby Checker and The Twist. Bigger than Pee-wee Herman and “Tequila.” Ickey Woods has created the dance sensation to sweep the nation, and it has grown from something he did to something he is, a shadow that follows him wherever he goes.
“LIVE FROM HIS LOCKER, IT’S ICKEY WOODS!” the reporter will holler when Woods reaches in for his helmet. “GOOD MORNING ICKEY! HOW ABOUT A LITTLE SHUFFLE BEFORE THE GAME?”
He has become a giant under a magnifying glass. A skyscraper on top of a mountain. He is bigger than big. Ickey Woods is This Year’s Fad and everyone wants a piece. The Shuffle. The Ickey Shuffle. It is not so much the who (a rookie running back with a ponytail) or the where (along the sidelines) or the why (because he scored a touchdown) or even the how (two steps right, two steps left, spike the ball and wave a finger and holler “Woo, woo, woo!”).
It is the when.
Enter Ickey. Stage left.
When did this become “American Bandstand”? Who knows? Who cares? It was Jim McMahon’s headbands one year and Denver’s Three Amigos another. And now it is The Shuffle. A touchdown celebration. And so Woods has been surrounded by reporters all week, asking the kind of questions that can only be asked of . .
. a dance.
“Where did you originate it?” the reporter from Texas needs to know.
“I just thought it up before a game one time,” he says, crossing his thickly muscled arms. “I tried it out on Rickey Dixon. I said, ‘How’s this look?’ He said, ‘Yo, man. That’s cool.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna do it when I score today.’ “
“What does your mother think of it?” a reporter from Florida wonders.
“She had seen me do it and she said, ‘You’re not gonna do that silly dance out there on television, are you?’ But then they asked her to be in the Oldsmobile commercial and she did it, too. Now she loves it.”
“Was it hard for her to learn?” asks the reporter from Boston.
“Nah, my mom is an excellent dancer. She picked it up in about 10 minutes.”
The truth is, it doesn’t take more than 10 seconds to learn. The truth is, if dances were textbooks, the Ickey Shuffle would be Sally, Dick & Jane. But this is Super Bowl week; no one cares about the truth.
They care about entertainment. And Woods, the Bengals’ leading rusher this season, seems destined to provide it — no matter how hard he tries to avoid it.
Here is a guy — real name Elbert — who showed enormous promise as a high school prospect in Fresno, Calif., but didn’t bother to fill out any questionnaires for college recruiters. “I don’t know why I didn’t,” he says, shrugging, tipping the cap that sits atop his ponytailed mane. “I just put them aside.”
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas pursued him anyhow. Got him, too. But for three years, he was a backup. Some said a washout. “They told me I had an attitude problem,” he says, adjusting the opaque sunglasses that wrap around his temples. “But it was them with the problem. I was practicing better than the guys they started, but I wasn’t getting a chance to start. Then one away game, they told me they were taking the guy behind me because he had more experience.
“Why should I go out there and bust my butt every day and not be able to work my way into the starting lineup? It didn’t make sense. So they said I had an attitude problem.”
No problem, Ick man. Destiny has a way of handling such snags. By his senior year, there was a coaching change; Woods became the starter. And in 1987, he led the nation in rushing. The nation?
Which got him drafted by Cincinnati. Second round. Lots of teams could have had him. Truth is, he had no particular affection for the Bengals or their 4-11 record. But once he started playing, things went as smooth as the “Minute Waltz.” The Bengals turned it around, made the Super Bowl. Ickey gained more than 1,000 yards. And he danced his way into highlight films, endorsements and the American spotlight.
Not to mention the opposing teams.
“A lot of my opponents, especially the veterans, will say things like,
‘We’re not gonna have any dancing here today, rookie.’ They might stuff me real good the first time. And they’ll say, ‘Better go to the other side, rookie.’ But then I’ll come back and chalk off a 10-yarder on them. And I’ll say ‘Yo, baby. I’m gonna be here all day. You can’t just stop me on one play.’
This is how it will go Sunday. He will kneel with his teammates for the pre-game prayer. The man of the cloth will say, “Bless this team. . . . And Elbert, perhaps you would dance for us?’ “
He will stand at attention for the national anthem, and Billy Joel, the designated singer, will beckon him over to the piano, booming into the microphone: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THERE’S A MAN IN THE AUDIENCE I WANT TO BRING UP ON STAGE WITH ME. . . .”
Nothing will be normal. Nothing will be sane. They will hunger for the dance the way bobby-soxers once hungered for Sinatra and Presley.
The only problem is, he must hoof it in before he can hoof it up. It is a touchdown celebration, remember? And it is possible, with the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, that Woods will not see an end zone Sunday. Which means — hold your breath, it could be true — we may not see the old soft-cleat.
“What if that happens?” someone asks him.
“It won’t happen,” he says, staring at his million-dollar feet. “The Shuffle will go on.”
It’s got to.
Everybody’s doing it.
Mitch Albom’s sports-talk show “The Sunday Sports Albom” will feature a special Super Bowl post-game show Sunday night from 9 to 11 on WLLZ-FM (98.7). CUTLINES
Enter Ickey Woods, stage left, with the dance craze that is sweeping the nation.
What if Ickey Woods, here taking it to the Bills in the AFC title game, doesn’t see the end zone Sunday? He has an answer to that challenge