01/30/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
"EVERYBODY HAS TO EAT," SAYS ELBERT "Ickey" Woods, explaining why he sells frozen meat and seafood door-to-door out of a pickup truck in Cincinnati. "I get to meet a lot of people. And they get to see the human side of me." Sometimes Woods, 28, even gives them a taste. No, not of the steaks he peddles, but of the Ickey Shuffle. Remember? Three hops to the left, arm out straight, holding the ball. Shift the football and take three hops to the right. Spike the ball behind the head, twirl one finger and shake that booty!
One of the first memorable gridiron dance men, precursor of latter-day grid-iron red hots like Deion Sanders, Woods unveiled his end-zone shuffle during the 1988 NFL season when, as a rookie running back, he scored 15 times and helped take the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, won by San Francisco, 20-16. The shuffle began on the night before a game with the Cleveland Browns. Woods, who was improvising a little dance step to music, turned to his mother, Sylvia Taylor, and said, "Mom, if I score tomorrow, this is what I'm going to do." Basically, he recalls, "I was just acting silly." The following afternoon he scored—and shuffled.
The upshot was an Ickey avalanche, including a dozen Ickey T-shirts, an Ickey TV ad with Mom for Oldsmobile, even an Ickey milk shake. A year later, alas, the shuffle turned into a stagger when Woods blew out his knee during a game, and, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, missed the rest of the season and half the next. Then, in training camp, he incurred the same injury—to the other knee. Again, he had surgery. This time, though, the Bengals let him go, and he never got a tryout with another team. "I don't know if they are scared of my knees or what," he says. "They never told me anything."
After his release, Woods spent a year languishing at home, living off what remained from his reported $300,000 salary and six-figure endorsement deals. But as the money ran out, he realized he needed a job.
In addition to selling meat 4 hours a day, Woods is a salesman for a security company. "I just decided to give up on football and get on with the rest of my life," he says. Woods lives in a Cincinnati town house and has five kids, ages 1 through 11, with Chandra, his wife of six years, a ticket agent for an airline. "It takes a lot of patience," he says, "to go from being in the spotlight to the next year being injured and a couple years later not even being in the game anymore. But I have strong family support. There is life after football."
Yes, but is there life after the shuffle? Well, the shuffle was never completely retired. Woods has been known to trot it out for a benefit or a particularly loyal customer. "Sometimes I want it to die," he says, "because I want people to know me for me—not for the shuffle. I still have autograph seekers, though. It's nice, especially with the years I've been having lately."