Verifying the spark that inflamed Dwayne Woodruff’s voracity for education isn’t simple, as there were just too many generative circumstances, too many game-changing, life-changing candidates.
Still, as we talked in the lobby of the William Penn two hours after the one-time Steelers defensive back and MVP announced an uphill run for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the judge laid out a menu of likely sources.
His mother, who would die of ovarian cancer at 46, acquiring her associate degree while caring for her only child and a handicapped husband.
His father, a First Sergeant in the U.S. Army, who would return from Vietnam with a ruptured disc in his neck that turned him into a quadriplegic, trying to navigate electrician’s school when he could barely move his hands anymore.
“He wasn’t going to be an electrician,” said Woodruff, stifling a scoff and a tear at the same time. “He wasn’t able to get around. But he was trying to improve himself and to study. That really stuck with me. If you want to do anything in this life, you’ve got to educate yourself.”
Maybe the clincher was the Joy of his life, the girl he met in college at Louisville, the girl he’d marry and with whom he’d raise three kids, one an OB/GYN, one a lawyer, one both a lawyer and a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
Joy Maxberry, a transfer student from the University of Kentucky, had Dwayne Woodruff transfixed right from their initial encounters.
“My first year of college, I didn’t do very well,” Woodruff said. “I had like a 1.8 GPA. When I met Joy, I mean she was a student, a straight A student, and I was like, ‘Man this is a nice girl. If I’m gonna have a chance, I’d better start doin’ better at my classes.’ Then I just started trying to work my tail off to impress her and my family and the next thing you know I’m on the dean’s list.”
He was also starting on the football team, which came as news to Joy, who’d let it be known that she’d dated athletes at Kentucky and hadn’t’ found it appealing in the least.
“I remember during spring practice, she called and said, ‘Dwayne don’t you like me anymore? You’re never around.”
“I said, ‘Joy, I got practice.’”
“She said, ‘Practice? Practice for what?”
“I said, ‘I’m on the football team.’ I hadn’t told her, but she really hadn’t asked.”
During the first week of May 1979, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Steelers called the name Dwayne Woodruff after 160 others were selected in the NFL draft. It was late in the sixth round.
“That was a hard Steelers team to make,” Art Rooney Jr. remembered this week. “It was still a Super Bowl team, but he turned out a lot better than some of our No. 1 picks. He’s a tremendous guy.”
Woodruff played in Super Bowl XIV, but wouldn’t get to another in a career that stretched to 1990. He was Steelers MVP in 1982, and led them in interceptions in five different seasons. He wasn’t tremendously forthcoming about his post-career plans, but in 1984, he began attending Duquesne Law School five nights a week.