Drafted in the first round out of Boston College in 1999, a two-time Super Bowl Champion with New England, and a Pro Bowl center, when Damien Woody became a free agent 2008 after nine seasons in the NFL with the Patriots and Detroit Lions, he could have likely signed with any team in the league.
He chose the Jets because…
"A couple things. One, Coach (Eric) Mangini, we had a prior relationship with our time in New England together," Woody said. "So I was very familiar with the system and the culture that he brought with the Jets organization. And I wanted to get back on the East Coast to be closer to family.
"I just felt like the organization was ready to take that leap. They'd done a pretty good job of drafting and acquiring players. I felt like they were going to go all in and bring in a bunch of guys who were going to take that next leap. I was all in."
Having played center, guard, and a handful of games at tackle, Woody was nothing if not versatile. Mangini and Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum liked what they saw and would line him up at right tackle.
"My last year in Detroit, they had been experimenting with me at tackle because one of our guys wasn't cutting it," Woody said. "And so the Jets were really impressed. Coach Mangini was like, 'I know you can play it because you did it the last six or seven games with the Lions.' They just felt really confident that I could go out there and play at a high level."
Mangini was also confident that he could showcase the veteran in front of his new teammates.
"When I came for my free agent visit, Eric was like, 'Listen, you know what type of program I run,'" Woody said. "He was going to be tough on me because I knew the culture and environment. He just wanted to set an example for the rest of the team."
After one season together, Mangini was let go, and Woody would be playing under his fifth head coach, a man who was making his head coaching debut, Rex Ryan.
"I thought Rex was a breath of fresh air. I felt like it was great, especially for myself, who was at the end of my career, because Rex was a player's coach," Woody said. "He really knew how to vibe with the players. I bought in and so did everyone else. Rex just made it fun. He didn't view himself as the head coach. He viewed himself as just one of the guys on a mission.
"There were times where we would have beers together and just kind of talk about the team. I had never had that in my career. I think that's what made Rex stand out. We knew he was the head coach, but he wanted to be one of the guys."
During Ryan's first two seasons, 2009-10, he and the rest of the guys posted winning records, and made it to back-to-back AFC Championship Games.
"Obviously, we had Mark Sanchez (at quarterback), who was a rookie at the time, but we had a real veteran team. We had a bunch of guys that knew how to practice, knew how to be pros, and we didn't need a head coach to be overbearing on us. Plus, we were very talented," Woody said.
"Rex brought an identity to us. 'Listen, we're going to be the best defense in football, and we're going to have the best rushing attack in football. That's how we're going to play, and we're going to see how far we can go.' And that's exactly what we did."
The AFC Championship Game was as far as the Jets could go those two seasons. The first time, they fell to Indianapolis, and the second time, to Pittsburgh.
"There are moments in games when you've got to rise to the occasion, you've got to make those plays. For whatever reason, those back-to-back years, there came moments where we just didn't make enough plays," Woody said.
"I've always been the type of person that you give credit to your opponent because they played better. But there were just moments where if we made a play here, made a play there, maybe we could have had a better seeding. Maybe we could have had a bye week in the playoffs. Maybe we could have gone to the Super Bowl. But unfortunately, we just didn't make those plays in those key moments in certain games for us to get over the hump.
"I've told people that I won two Super Bowls in New England and the fanbase is great in New England, but I've always said that if you win in New York, there's nothing like it. Those two years, it just seemed like the whole city was on fire. It was just a great time, a great moment as far as the Jets are concerned. I always tell Jet fans that my biggest regret is that we weren't able to get over the hump and get to a Super Bowl."
After 12 seasons in the trenches, Woody announced his retirement on July 26, 2011. Nine days later, he began working for ESPN as an NFL analyst. Which he's still doing.
"I get to stay close to the game of football. Just being able to talk to different coaches, the players, I mean, it's just something that I love doing. It's great," Woody said. "You try to gather as much information as possible. You don't want to just go on TV and just say anything. I talk to the guys and get a feel for them, what's going on with the team, so you can go out there and talk with the most information as possible.
"It takes work. A lot of former players, they transition out of the game and they think that it's easy. 'Well, we're going to go on TV and just talk football.' There's a lot more that goes into it than that. There's a lot of work that you've got to put into it, a lot of film that you've got to watch, a lot of people that you've got to talk to. Just watching how the game has evolved from the time my career ended to where it is now, it's a different style of game."
Making their home in North Jersey, Woody and his wife, Nicole, have seven children: Kamille, Jalynn, Alexandra, Domonique, Deuce, Dontrell, and Jacoby.
What's the best thing about being Damien Woody today?
"First and foremost, my family," he said. "Having the best wife in the world, and then my children, being able to watch them grow and turn into young adults. To me, that's the No. 1 thing. That's the best thing in the world. And my health. I don't have any complaints. Life is good."