Week 4 of the 1988 season may not have been the birth of the Ickey Shuffle, but it certainly was the genesis.
Given his first chance to contribute in more than just short-yardage situations, rookie running back Ickey Woods carried 13 times for 62 yards and two touchdowns to help lift the Cincinnati Bengals to a 24-17 win against the Cleveland Browns at Riverfront Stadium, keeping the team’s record perfect at 4-0.
Woods said he never gave much thought to how he would celebrate if he scored, so when it happened he was caught off guard.
“I didn’t know what to do so I kind of took my hands and put them between my legs,” Woods said. “(Defensive back) Rickey Dixon came up to me and said, ‘Man, what was that?’ I told him it was my celebration dance, and he said, ‘That thing was whack.’
“I asked him what I should do and he didn’t know, so I suggested putting some steps to it,” Woods continued. “The whole next week I thought about what I could do, and then just before it was time to go out and get warmed up, it just hit me. I said, ‘Rickey, check this out. This is what I’m going to do when I score.’ He loved it. He said ‘Yeah, Ick. Man, that’s going to be live.’ ”
The win against the Browns had much greater significance, of course, than hatching an enduring – and endearing – piece of Cincinnati sports history. It signaled the birth of the running game.
With Cleveland’s Pro Bowl cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield holding Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason to just 8 of 23 passing for 183 yards, Woods, James Brooks and Stanley Wilson racked up the first of what would the team’s first of seven 200-yard rushing games.
Brooks ran for 83 yards and Wilson 68 to go along with Woods’ 62.
“Stanley went down for a few plays early in the game and they gave me a chance to get in and show what I could do,” Woods said. “I made a couple of good runs, and they kept me in. We didn’t miss a beat.”
The Bengals jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when Skip McLendon forced a Kevin Mack fumble on the fourth play of the game, and Lewis Billups returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
After Matt Bahr and Jim Breech traded field goals to make it a 10-3 game, Woods scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in the second quarter.
Woods’ second score – which occurred less than 90 seconds after the Browns had gotten within 17-10 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mike Pagel to Brian Brennan – came with seven seconds left in the half and gave the Bengals a 24-10 lead.
“As a rookie I took a lot of snaps in camp and the preseason while JB and Stanley kind of sat back a little bit,” said Woods, who today is the spokesman and director for the Jovante Woods Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for asthma and named for Ickey’s son, who passed away three years after suffering an attack while playing football.
“They got to play most of the games, and I knew that was best for us,” Woods continued. “But I just wanted to get out on the field. I felt like I had proved in practice that I could get it done. And that correlated over to the field. I was able to get out there and finish off where I left off in practice, breaking a few tackles, running a few people over and making some good plays for our team.”
Woods’ touchdowns were the first of what would be 15 for him that season on the way to gaining 1,066 yards.
“With the two corners and great pass Cleveland had, we had to depend on the run game that day,” Woods said. “That was the start of our running game starting to pick up, and that really opened up our play-action game.”
And it also opened the door for the Ickey Shuffle.
Sept. 25, 1988
At Riverfront Stadium
Cincinnati Bengals 24, Cleveland Browns 17
Cleveland 3 7 0 7 — 17
Cincinnati 7 17 0 0 — 24
Ci: Lewis Billups 26 fumble recovery (Jim Breech kick), 2:24
Cl: Matt Bahr 27 field goal, 12:43
Ci: Breech 34 field goal, 0:59
Ci: Ickey Woods 1 run (Breech kick), 11:28
Cl: Brian Brennan 11 pass from Mike Pagel (Bahr kick), 13:15
Ci: Woods 1 run (Breech kick), 14:43
Cl: Kevin Mack 3 run (Bahr kick), 4:21
Cleveland – Mike Pagel 24-48-0-254; Cincinnati – Boomer Esiason 8-23-0-183
Cleveland – Kevin Mack 14-39, Earnest Byner 4-17, Tim Manoa 2-7, Pagel 1-5; Cincinnati – James Brooks 17-83, Stanley Wilson 11-68, Ickey Woods 13-62, Boomer Esiason 3-0
Cleveland – Ozzie Newsome 5-72, Earnest Byner 8-64, Webster Slaughter 3-53, Brian Brennan 4-31, Reggie Langhorne 3-27, Kevin Mack 1-7; Cincinnati – Eddie Brown 4-127, Tim McGee 1-21, Cris Collinsworth 1-16, Jim Riggs 1-16, Rodney Holman 1-3