Like many kids LaMarr Woodley spent his childhood full of energy, running around both on and off the football field. The only time young Woodley could be guaranteed to be sitting still was on Saturday mornings at 11 when the X-Men cartoon would air. Woodley would get lost in the crazy world of mutants with superpowers. While he liked Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, and the rest of the team there was one character that would stay with him for the entirety of his life, Wolverine.
Speaking strictly from a literal perspective the main reason Wolverine will stay with Woodley is that he has an enormous tattoo of the comic book legend covering much of his upper right arm, but it goes deeper than that. After all, Woodley was a Wolverine, a Michigan Wolverine that is.
“When I graduated from Michigan I wanted to do something a little bit different,” Woodley explains. “I didn’t want to do the M [Michigan’s logo] tattoo that everybody else does, I wanted to do Wolverine. It mixes the cartoon that I was a fan of and my school.”
After spending most of his career as an outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers Woodley will be switching positions this season as he transitions to defensive end for his new team, the Oakland Raiders. Many players would feel extra pressure trying to pick up a new position but not Woodley.
“I’m excited about playing defensive end,” Woodley says. “The transition is no big deal, I’m just going from standing up to putting my hand back in the dirt and rushing. That’s what I’ve done my entire life; rush the quarterback, rush the quarterback.”
Much like his favorite X-Men character the only thing on Woodley’s mind when he hits the field is attacking. It doesn’t matter if he drops into coverage to hit a receiver or if he is rushing through the line to sack a quarterback, Woodley is out there to inflict some punishment on the other team. By keeping his focus simply on hitting the opponent Woodley doesn’t get lost in his head when facing elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, who he will now have the pleasure of lining up against twice a year.
“Whenever I line up I want to get after every quarterback, every offensive lineman, every running back,” Woodley says. “I just don’t care. If you have the opposite color jersey as me I’m going to go after you. I’m excited about the opportunity to get after you.”
While he may have the same spirit as Wolverine, Woodley was not blessed with the genetic mutation that allows Wolverine to heal at a miraculous speed. After suffering a string of injuries over the last couple of years Woodley saw less time on the field and eventually this led to the Steelers deciding to let him go. There has been a concentrated focus on the safety of the game in the past few years, particularly when focusing on head injuries, but this hasn’t caused any trepidation in Woodley about playing the game that he loves.
“I’m not afraid of getting hurt, I don’t even think about it,” he says. “Whenever the game is over I’m excited—win or lose—that I’m walking off the field instead of getting carried off. When I get done playing this game I’m probably going to be 32, 33. I’ve got a long life to live, this is just a piece of my life.”
As part of the initiative to make the game safer, hits that were legal just a few years ago now carry a 15-yard penalty and the potential of a substantial fine. The rule changes have caused a lot of defensive players to grouse. Woodley accepts that he might get penalized from time to time but he can’t change the way he plays: full-on attack mode is the only way he knows how.
“I’m just trying to take you down,” Woodley says. “It’s not like I’m intentionally going after your head, I’m aiming at wherever there is the most for me to grab to take you down.”
When Woodley was only a sophomore in high school he went to the flea market in his hometown of Saginaw, MI, and got the Chinese character for “wood” tattooed on his arm. So as to avoid looking foolish Woodley did a decent amount of research prior to getting the tattoo to make sure that it actually said what he wanted it to. While the tattoo was accurate, that didn’t save it from becoming one of many of his early tattoos that ended up being covered by other ink.
“I used to have a big Woody Woodpecker tattoo,” Woodley says with a laugh. “At the time he was cool. The details were cool. But it was like one of those old 3D movies that looked good at the time until all of a sudden there is an HD TV. Then you look at it and say Awww, hell no. So I had to cover it up and get the HD.”
Woodley certainly has upgraded his ink. In addition to the fierce Wolverine tattoo on his right arm he is sporting a couple of pieces by Ami James including an amazing tattoo of King Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus on his forearm. James also inked Woodley with a couple of wolves on an episode of NY Ink.
One of Woodley’s tattoos that got covered up was script saying “Sag Nasty,” a nickname for his hometown. As he grew older Woodley understood that calling his home by such a derisive name might not be the coolest thing to do anymore, especially since he loves the place so much.
If Woodley is like Wolverine on the field he’s much more like Professor X when he goes back to Saginaw in that he does as much charity as possible to help out struggling kids. In addition to running a football camp Woodley has helped with a program that prepares kids for their first day of the school year by giving them school supplies and haircuts as well as helping to pass out food around the holidays.
“When you grow up in a city as a young kid you are always saying that you wish we had this thing or that we could do this other thing,” Woodley says. “You always say that if you are fortunate enough these are some of the things that you would go back and do. Everything is just to give back, to give something that you feel like you needed when you were young.”
When he was let go by the Steelers in the off-season no one would have faulted Woodley if he took it a bit personally and felt dejected. But much in the same way that he goes after quarterbacks and Wolverine goes after Sentinels, Woodley is approaching his change of team full of gusto and vigor. The Raiders may have struggled a bit last year but Woodley thinks that by adding players with the sort of experience that he has—Woodley played a huge role in the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl victory—the Raiders might soon be hoisting a Lombardi trophy of their own.
“It was great to have all of that success early in my career, getting used to being in the playoffs, knowing what it takes to be a winner, knowing how to get to that next step,” Woodley explains. “That’s the thing we bring to Oakland. We got Justin Tuck who won two Super Bowls. We brought back Charles Woodson, he’s been to the Super Bowl. James Jones, he’s played in the Super Bowl. You bring guys in with experience that know how to win and sometimes that’s the missing piece to being a successful team.”