By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When you’ve been around as long as Tom Woodeshick has, and done as much, very few things take you by surprise, but over the last few years there have been a couple of things that have occurred that were stunners.
When the word reached the one-time West Virginia University fullback last week that he had been named to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, he admits it took him by surprise.
“It’s been so long that I kind of forgot I even played football. What is it, 40 years ago, 50 years ago? God, it’s 50 years ago,” he said.
But that was nothing compared to the surprise he received a few years earlier when he got his wallet back.
There’s quite a story behind the return of the wallet.
It goes back to his senior season at West Virginia and the Mountaineers’ game against Syracuse.
“We had never won at Syracuse,” Woodeshick recalled the other day.
And in his final chance, things were not going well at halftime when coach Gene Corum stood before the team.
“We were quite motivated by an announcement he made to us at halftime,” Woodeshick recalled, “telling us they broke into the locker room and stole our personal belongings.”
That did not sit very well with a West Virginia team that was a rough and tumble bunch.
“I can remember how upset we were to a point where we went and physically destroyed Syracuse,” Woodeshick said, recalling total dominance in the second half of a 17-6 victory.
Woodeshick, who had come out of the coal mines around Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to come to West Virginia, was somewhat of an excitable sort in those days, once recalling how, before games, he used to enter the weight room wearing a pair of plastic goggles.
“It gave me a feeling of superiority. I felt like some super-human from outer space,” he said.
The same kind of feeling he had down in Sunnyside when he was punching out parking meters.
“I loved to put a dime in them and give them my best forearm shot. They would be on an hour for days,” he once explained.
See, the thing is, it really didn’t take much for Woodeshick to get too fired up about anything, especially a football game.
Corum’s halftime revelation of the stolen property was proof of that.
“In retrospect, I say to myself, why did I get so teed off? I didn’t have anything in my wallet anyway. No money, no valuables,” Woodeshick said.
That made it even more unbelievable, a few years back, when out of the blue his stolen wallet was returned to him.
“I couldn’t believe it. They found my wallet and sent it back to me and, know what, the only thing I did have in my wallet was a picture of my girlfriend, who I broke up with anyway,” he said, laughing at the thought.
In those days you didn’t know where inspiration might come from.
“There was a time he used a newspaper article to inspire us,” Woodeshick remembered, speaking of Coach Corum. “Before a Pitt game, there was an article where they referred to us as ‘Pennsylvania garbage.’ They meant we had a lot of kids on the team from Pennsylvania who had been rejected by Pitt and went to WVU.”
That didn’t sit well with the West Virginia team, either, especially since the brother of Paul Martha, a Pitt immortal, was playing at WVU.
“We beat the crap out of Pitt,” Woodeshick recalled.
And he had probably his finest game at WVU in the 15-8 victory, rushing for 89 yards on 10 carries.
Woodeshick was known more for his toughness than his running ability at WVU, although he was a good runner despite never gaining 500 yards in a season.
“At WVU we ran the T-formation. We had three running backs and we threw considerably my senior year,” he explained. “My per-carry average was there, but I didn’t get to run enough.”
Once he got a chance to carry the ball in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, he made his mark, gaining 947 yards in one season, narrowly missing 1,000 … and, yes, there’s a story to go with that.
On the last play before the half against the Chicago Bears, he broke open on a trap play behind a great block by All-Pro tackle Bob Brown and went 60 yards for a touchdown, only to have it called back for holding 10 yards behind the play by the other tackle Lane Howell, costing him the 1,000-yard season.
Woodeshick had every intention of attending Penn State, which was in his backyard, until running into WVU coach Pappy Lewis. He was sold immediately, but it played a role in his professional career.
He graduated when the AFL and NFL were in competition and signed with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL for a bonus of $1,250 and a salary of $9,500 before the draft, then also signed with the Eagles for a $2,000 bonus and salary of $12,500 after being drafted by the Eagles.
“I let my father and all my friends down by going to West Virginia. I wasn’t going to go to Buffalo when Philadelphia was in my back yard,” he explained. “I’d been a fan all my life. My two favorite teams in the NFL and the AFL were Buffalo and the Eagles, and that’s the two teams who drafted me. I always felt if I had failed, the Bills would have an interest in me, but if I failed at Buffalo, the NFL wouldn’t be interested in me.”
Woodeshick had a long and solid NFL career, then went on to a varied life that included owning restaurants, working in the stock market, broadcasting and marketing for casinos … which isn’t bad for a kid who wanted nothing more than to graduate the school of forestry at WVU.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.