SHUFFLING IN: Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods (sitting) will serve as grand marshal of the parade tonight. Woods was at The Boneyard Bash on Thursday and plans on staying in town all weekend for the race. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
SHUFFLING IN: Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods (sitting) will serve as grand marshal of the parade tonight. Woods was at The Boneyard Bash on Thursday and plans on staying in town all weekend for the race. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
When Elbert "Ickey" Woods rides down Main Street as the grand marshal of the 2013 Madison Regatta parade, many spectators will fondly remember him as the former All-Pro fullback who invented one of the most famous touchdown celebrations in NFL history.

But the former gridiron great has found a new opponent - one that has changed his life forever.

Woods and his family have dedicated themselves to raising awareness about asthma ­­ - a disease that took the life of his son in 2010.

Football fans were introduced to Woods when the University of Nevada Las Vegas fullback was the 31st overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1988 NFL Draft and within months pieced together an impressive rookie season.

With a talented quarterback in Boomer Esiason and running behind the protection of Pro Bowl offensive linemen Anthony Munoz and Max Montoya, Woods ran for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season, helping the Bengals to a 12-4 record and an AFC playoff berth. Woods' success continued in the playoffs as he ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns to send his team to Super Bowl XXIII.

Although the game is now remembered for San Francisco's game-winning drive in the final seconds, Woods finished as the leading rusher in the game with 79 yards.

"Being able to play in the Super Bowl is definitely my most memorable moment in football," Woods said. "It's the ultimate game and to say that I got to play in it with such a talented team is an honor. Not many get to say they played in the biggest game in football."

While injuries limited Woods the following three seasons, he remained a fan favorite in the NFL. His "Ickey Shuffle," an end zone celebration performed after every touchdown he scored in Riverfront Stadium, became an instant hit around the country and was imitated by players and fans alike in nearly every sport.

"I had no idea the shuffle would take off the way it did," Woods said laughing. "It was just something I made up to get the fans involved and it caught on more and more as my career went along. It's just one of those things where I was in the right place at the right time."

A knee injury forced Woods to retire following the 1991 season, but despite a career cut short, he looks back fondly on his time in Cincinnati.

"It was a fun time in my life. I was blessed with the talent and ability to play in the NFL," Woods said. "To put on the Bengal uniform and play was a dream come true, but I knew when the knee injuries came up it was time to go."

Woods continued to reside in the Cincinnati area and spent the next 18 years in business, a job he succeeded in because of his love of conversation.

"I've always had the gift of gab and always enjoyed talking to people. When you're in sales that skill pays off," Woods said. "I've sold cars, I've sold meat, I've sold vacuum cleaners. You name it, I've probably sold it."

Woods is still selling today but his sales pitch is something much more important than a car or slab of meat.

On Aug. 14, 2010, the Woods family was devastated when Ickey's 16-year old son, Jovante, a promising star on the football field and in the classroom, died from a severe asthma attack.

Dealing with their loss, Ickey and Jovante's mother, Chandra, were inspired to start the Jovante Woods Foundation to raise asthma awareness.

"We want the Jovante Woods Foundation to be the face of asthma," Woods said. "Asthma is the fastest growing disease in the country, but a disease that raises the least amount of money to find a cure," Woods said. "Our goal is to raise money to fund research that will find a cure or at least find a better way to treat the disease. We want the money we raise to make a dent."

In addition to the foundation's all-out blitz on asthma, the group has also brought awareness to organ donation.

"When Jovante received his driver's license he made sure that the little red heart was on it to show he was an organ donor," Woods said. "When he passed away, his donated organs were passed on and four different lives were saved because of them, which is truly amazing. We have taken the time to visit schools to talk with teenagers getting ready to get their license and talked with them about the benefits of becoming an organ donor."

Woods has also continued his son's devotion to academics and athletics by awarding select student-athletes with the Jovante Woods Foundation "3.8 To Be Great" Scholarship.

"The scholarship was established to honor a male and female with at least a 3.8 grade point average who excelled in academics, athletics, and community service," Woods said. "Jovante was dedicated to all three areas and had plans to pursue a law career, so we wanted to give back to honor those who had the same lofty ambitions as my son. This past year we gave nine scholarships which is the highest amount we have ever given."

In just three years, the Jovante Woods Foundation has taken steps in the right direction. Ickey and his crew have raised awareness at events large and small throughout the Midwest as well as through donations and Woods' memorabilia sales.

This past December, the Jovante Woods Foundation donated $25,000 to the Cincinnati Children's Asthma Research Division. But, according to Ickey, there is plenty of work left to be done.

"We are always out talking to the community and raising money," Woods said. "However, we still have goals left to accomplish. Within the next five years we want the Jovante Woods Foundation to be nationwide and in the next 10 years we want to have raised at least a million dollars that will go towards asthma research."

While Ickey Woods is familiar with the Madison Regatta, this will be his first time to attend the event.

In addition to serving as parade grand marshal, Woods will have a booth set up each day of the event to promote the Jovante Woods Foundation.

Autographed items and other memorabilia will be on sale to raise money as well as an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets for the foundation's Cincinnati Spark Shuffle Car Giveaway.

"When I was asked to be the grand marshal I was honored and kindly accepted," Woods said, adding with a chuckle, "It's always fun to do these parades and get to be the center of attention!"

For more information on asthma or to make a donation to help fund asthma research, visit