Breaking News
More () »

Washington, DC's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Washington, DC | WUSA9.com

'A complete, full life' | Family, friends remember DC native, NFL legend Willie Wood

Wood, 83, of Washington, D.C., passed away February 3 from natural causes.

WASHINGTON — A Washington, D.C. legend will soon be laid to rest.

Eight-time NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood, 83, died Feb. 3 from natural causes. 

Wood, a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers, won Super Bowls I and II. 

"He didn't live off of his accomplishments," Wood's son, Willie Wood Jr., said. "He didn't walk around, flashing it to people. He was humble about it."

RELATED: Breaking Barriers: DC native Willie Wood defied odds and culture as a black athlete in the 1960s

Wood played football at D.C.'s former Armstrong High School in the Shaw neighborhood. 

Soon after, according to his son, Wood would accomplish several firsts in his football career, including becoming the first black quarterback to play at the University of Southern California.

"Some of us kind of wish that we could be the first one through the door in one category, and he did it four different times in different parts of his life," Wood Jr. said.

Wood's son said his father would also become the first black head coach in modern American football during a stint with the World Football League. He said Wood Sr. was also the first black coach in the Canadian Football League.

"There's always surprise that it's never about the rings, it's never about the on-field accomplishments or the stats," Wood Jr. said, talking about his father's legacy. "It's the fact that he was a door opener."

Bud, despite all his accomplishments, Willie Wood always remembered where he came from.

His niece, Donna Wood, said he loved Washington, D.C.

"This was his hometown," she said. "He played in Green Bay, but this is where he lived. He liked to go around and be with people. Be sociable."

Donna said what she will miss most about her uncle is his smile.

"And the way he could make you feel so good about yourself," she said. "As soon as he would come in the door, 'Hello, Darling!' That would be the first thing I would hear."  

Joe Bell played football with Wood Sr. at Armstrong. 

"I mean, Willie could tackle!" recalled Bell.

But, what stood out the most to Bell was the compassion his friend routinely showed.

"He was just a guy who was like a brother to me," Bell said. "But, the hardest thing was seeing him like he was in his later years." 

Wood Sr. lived the last years of his life in an assisted living facility. Before his passing, Wood Sr.'s family said he struggled with an advanced form of dementia.

Wood Jr. said doctors suspected years of hard hits in the NFL had left his father with the degenerative brain disease CTE.

"It wasn’t the Willie Wood that we all knew growing up and that his friends all knew," his son said.

RELATED: When the memories fade: Willie Wood's battle after football

Despite his condition, Wood Jr. said, if given the chance, his father would live his life the same way all over again.

He said Wood Sr. had "a complete, full life." 

"When you get to my age and you look back over your life, can you say that you did the things that he did?" Wood Jr. said. "And met the people he met? Accomplish the things that he’s done?" 

The Wood family has invited the public to attend a celebration of Willie Wood's life on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Bible Way Church on 1100 New Jersey Ave NW in DC. The viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., with the service starting at 11 a.m.

Download the brand new WUSA9 app here.

Sign up for the Get Up DC newsletter: Your forecast. Your commute. Your news.