Will the Ickey Shuffle Rise Again?

ByJonann Brady

Feb. 4, 2006 — -- Nearly 20 years after it was introduced, the most famous celebration dance in football may finally make its Super Bowl debut on Sunday.

The Ickey Shuffle reached iconic status in the late 1980s, when Cincinnati Bengals fullback Elbert "Ickey" Woods started celebrating his touchdown receptions with a brief boogie. Injury ended Woods' career before he had the chance to show off the Ickey Shuffle in the championship game. But now a player on the Super Bowl-bound Pittsburgh Steelers has resurrected it.

In December, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward decided to dust off the Ickey Shuffle -- three hops to the left, three to the right, three hops back, a spike of the ball, a finger twirl and a "Woo! Woo!"

Woods told The New York Times that at first he was angry when Ward lifted his signature move, but then said, "I felt honored."

He even came to Detroit this weekend to watch from the sidelines as the Steelers and Seahawks face off.

Back in 1989, when Woods helped carry the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII in his rookie season, the Ickey Shuffle was all the rage on playgrounds and Pop Warner fields across the country. But the 49ers beat the Bengals that year 20-16, and Woods didn't cross the goal line, so the country didn't get to see Ickey's triumphant end-zone dance.

Since New York Giants wide receiver Homer Jones invented the spike by slamming a ball into the end zone in 1965, post-touchdown antics have only gotten more extravagant.

The Houston Oilers Billy "White Shoes" Johnson popularized the Funky Chicken, Butch Johnson invented the California Quake, the Washington Redskins "Fun Bunch" showed off their high-fives, and Falcon Jamal Anderson did the Dirty Bird.

In recent years Terrell Owens, who played for the 49ers and was suspended from the Eagles this season after repeatedly bad-mouthing his teammates, has taken end-zone antics to new highs -- or lows, depending on your perspective.

Owens is perhaps best known for his Sharpie stunt during a game against the Seahawks in 2002. He pulled a marker out of his sock after scoring a touchdown, autographed the football and handed it to his financial adviser, who was sitting in the stands. Team management, NFL officials and the media slammed Owens for his showboating, but he wasn't disciplined.

More galling to many was that Owens sometimes appeared to mock other teams in his celebratory zeal -- by spiking the ball in the Cowboys' star on its field or by putting a towel on his arm and, like a malicious waiter, serving the football to the opposing team.

In 2003, Saints wide receiver Joe Horn produced a cell phone that a teammate had hidden in the goal-post padding and called his mom after scoring a touchdown. Unamused, the NFL fined Horn $30,000 for his stunt.

The inventor of the Ickey Shuffle says he, too, is unimpressed with Owens' and Horn's brand of celebrating.

"The Sharpie, the cell phone, I don't care too much for those," Woods said. "That's all about 'me, me, me.'"

Woods does, however, appreciate the antics of another Bengal, Chad Johnson, perhaps the most creative end-zone celebrator in the league right now. Some of Johnson's highlights include his interpretation of Riverdance, a mock marriage proposal to a team cheerleader, and a Tiger Woods takeoff.

"[He's] getting the fans into it," Woods said, noting he only did the Ickey Shuffle in front of the home crowd at the Bengals' Riverfront Stadium. "I did it to get fans into it and get the stadium rockin.'"

Woods admitted that team owner Paul Brown and league officials didn't care too much for the Ickey Shuffle, but it helped that the dance had one influential fan in particular.

"His [Brown's] wife loved it," Woods said. "So the team picked up some fines."

Woods also says he can't take all the credit for inventing the Shuffle. When he broke out with an early version of the Ickey Shuffle, he says his teammate Ricky Dixon asked him, "Man, what was that?"

"I said, 'That's my celebration dance,'" Woods said. "He said I needed to put some steps to it."

And so, the Ickey Shuffle was born.

"I was on a team that was winning," he said. "I got to do it 15 times that year. I was in the right place, at the right time."

Unfortuntely, a knee injury cut Woods' career short. In the second game of the 1989 season, he tore his ACL and sat out the rest of the year. Two seasons later, the Bengals cut him and he retired, having gained fewer than 500 yards in his last three years in the league, after gaining 1,066 his rookie year.

His first post-football job he did to support his family was selling meat from a truck. He'd even pull out the Ickey Shuffle if it meant making a sale.

Woods now coaches the Cincinnati Sizzle, a women's professional football team, and runs the Ickey Woods Youth Foundation.

"Life goes on," Woods said from Detroit of his bright but painfully brief career.

He's no longer in the game, but he will be in Detroit, watching every play and every end-zone move. Ickey's pick for Super Bowl XL?

"I'm an AFC man, so I have to go with the Steelers, 24-21," he said. "It's gonna be a close game."

As Hines Ward has shown, Woods and his signature steps are not forgotten. This year, Ickey might just see a little bit of himself, and his legacy, in the end zone again.

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