"This is too much money!"
The memory of myself screaming the above statement to my father as a 10-year-old kid remains vivid inside my head, even though it's been some 19 years since that afternoon at the local mall.
It was the summer of 1996, and my two sisters and parents and I embarked on a Sunday trip to the local mall, located just outside of Columbus, Ohio. While this trip seemed to be just another routine afternoon at the mall, this one helped mold my future as a sports and (most importantly) Steelers fan.
The Steelers had just played in the first Super Bowl of my lifetime, and even though they were defeated by the Cowboys, it was an exciting game and season and one that transformed me from a Star Wars fan to a fan of the NFL and the black and gold. The excitement inside my house that whole season drew me into learning more about the Steelers and the NFL, and once I began the journey of learning about the Steelers and learning the team's heritage, there was no looking back.
While my sisters were shopping for "girly stuff", my father and I decided to check out the sporting goods store. Hung inside the store's walls stood many jerseys bearing familiar, famous names like Favre, Aikman, Elway, Smith, Rice, and Marino, among others. But only one jersey caught my eye.
A black No. 26 Steelers jersey was hung alongside the other NFL players, and below it was an row of No. 26 jerseys that came in all shapes and sizes. It was the jersey of the great Rod Woodson, the sterling cornerback/kick returner that was the only player among the 90's Steelers to be named to the Steelers "75th Anniversary All-Time Team". Just months earlier, Woodson had become the first player to return to action despite suffering a torn ACL earlier in the same season to play in Super Bowl XXX. Woodson started the game, and helped shut down the Cowboys offense in the second half.
I didn't need to say anything for my dad to express my excitement upon seeing the jersey; my facial expression said it all. My dad told me that the jersey was $30, which today would be a downright steal for an NFL jersey. But apparently, this was a lot of money to a 10-year-old back in 1996.
Despite my disdain in the price, my dad said that he'd buy the jersey for me as long as I wore it and kept up with my house and school work. After picking out the exact jersey (Adult Small, size 40), I immediately threw it over my T-shirt to show off my very first jersey. I wore it the following day at school and during every NFL game the ensuing season.
Woodson ended up having another banner season, picking off six passes and earning his final Pro Bowl nod as a Steeler. You can imagine my excitement watching Woodson record a pick-six against the Ravens early in the season. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh released Woodson following the season, prompting my first heartbreak as a sports fan. While a No. 36 Jerome Bettis jersey took over as my Sunday jersey in 1997, my Woodson jersey still remained one of my most prized possessions.
While I've had many jerseys since, my No. 26 Rod Woodson jersey remains my All-Time favorite, and despite it being nearly two decades old and a little more snug to put on these days, I still throw it on on NFL Sundays each fall.