TBT: The Steelers trade for David Woodley in 1984
It’s probably fair to say quarterback David Woodley, who the Steelers traded for in 1984, was brought to Pittsburgh with the idea in mind that he would take the place of Terry Bradshaw.
Chuck Noll, the Steelers’ legendary head coach who led his teams to four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s, believed in building through the draft, not trading picks away. Noll was quoted more than once as saying, “It’s like teams were trying to give you their problems” when he talked about them trying to pry his precious draft picks away.
Therefore, on February 23, 1984, when Pittsburgh sent its third round pick in that year’s draft plus a conditional pick in the 1985 draft to the Dolphins in-exchange for Woodley’s services, that was news.
And when the Steelers immediately signed Woodley to a three-year deal reported to be worth around $2 million (big money in those days and certainly the biggest contract in franchise history up to that point), there was no doubt what Pittsburgh had in-store for its new signal-caller.
“David’s a fine addition,” said Noll immediately after the trade in a quote courtesy of The Hour. “We’re not sure, of course, about Terry (Bradshaw). We expect it to be just about the same situation with him as it was last season.”
Noll was referring to a surgically-repaired elbow that forced Bradshaw to miss all but one half of the 1983 season. As of February 1984 (not even two months after Pittsburgh was blown-out in the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders), nobody was yet sure about Bradshaw’s intentions.
But the front-office had to know. Maybe that’s why Noll went on to say, “There’s a great opportunity here for David to take the reins.”
It took him awhile, but five months later, on July 25, Bradshaw officially announced his retirement from the Steelers and immediately began a career in broadcasting.
Now, that opportunity for Woodley that Noll previously spoke of? It was there for the taking.
At the time, Woodley’s stock was fairly high, considering that, a little more than a year before the Steelers traded for him, he became the youngest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl, when the 24 year old led Miami against the Redskins in Super Bowl XVII.
Unfortunately for Woodley, he turned in one of the worst quarterback performances in the game’s history, completing four of 14 passes for 97 yards, one touchdown (76 of those yards came on a touchdown pass to Jimmy Cefalo early in the game) and one interception, as the Dolphins fell, 27-17.
Maybe Woodley’s abysmal performance on the sport’s biggest stage led to the Dolphins not passing on Dan Marino like 26 other teams had already done (including his hometown Steelers) and making him the 27th pick of the 1983 NFL Draft.
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Marino supplanted Woodley about midway through the ’83 campaign, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Marino was beginning a career that would ultimately lead him to Canton, and Woodley needed to be in a place where he could at least compete for a starting job.
As Dolphins head coach Don Shula told reporters immediately after the trade, “I’m glad David is able to go to a team where he can be No. 1.”
Woodley instantly became a fan-favorite, at least relative to how they felt about Mark Malone, who was already in the doghouse despite only starting three games after being selected in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft.
Woodley beat-out Malone and started seven games in ’84. But the Steelers were 3-4 in those contests, and Woodley was mostly ineffective, averaging just under 182 passing yards a game and throwing eight touchdowns to seven interceptions.
Woodley also suffered multiple-concussions and a bruised shin, and this ultimately led to Malone taking his place as the starter down-the-stretch. Malone struggled just as much as Woodley, but the Steelers managed to go 6-3 with him as the starting quarterback. In the playoffs, Malone, despite turning the football over early, helped lead the team to an upset road victory over the Broncos in the divisional round.
By the start of the following season, there was no doubt Malone would be the starter.
However, in a bit of a reversal of the previous year, Woodley started six games for an injured Malone in ’85 and directed the Steelers to four wins.
But by season’s end, little-known third-stringer Scott Campbell was starting for the team, and when Woodley was told by Noll that he would not be the starter in 1986, he retired from the NFL.
As per his Wikipedia page, Woodley attempted a comeback with the Packers in 1987, but ultimately didn’t make the cut.
After football, Woodley sadly developed a problem with alcohol that eventually led to liver disease and a transplant in 1992. Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome his demons and passed away in 2003 from liver and kidney failure at the age of 44.
In two years with the Steelers, Woodley went 7-6 as a starter, passed for 2,630 yards, 14 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
David Woodley was no-doubt part of the most high-profile trade in Chuck Noll’s 23-year head coaching career. But instead of being the quarterback who replaced Terry Bradshaw, he just became a footnote in Steelers’ history.
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