Men's Cross Country, Track & Field
Illini Legend Abe Woodson Passes Away at 79

Woodson starred on the track and on the football field at Illinois.
Woodson starred on the track and on the football field at Illinois.

Feb. 12, 2014

Abe Woodson, who starred in football and track at the University of Illinois from 1953-1957, passed away in Las Vegas on Saturday, February 8, at the age of 79.

Woodson was an All-American running back and first-team All-Big Ten selection in football for the Fighting Illini in 1956, as well as a two-time Big Ten Champion as a sprinter on the track. He twice tied the 50-yard indoor high hurdle world record and narrowly missed an Olympic berth in 1956 when he finished fourth at the trials.

Woodson is most known among Illini fans for his historic performance in Illinois' 20-13 win over No. 1 Michigan State in 1956. Down 13-0 at half, Woodson scored three second half touchdowns - a 2-yard run, a 70-yard run and a spectacular 82-yard reception on a screen pass - to lift the Illini to victory. All told, Woodson touched the ball 20 times for 271 yards, marking an individual performance that ranks among the best in school history.

After serving a military commitment, Woodson went on to play nine years in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers (7 years) and St. Louis Cardinals (2 years). He was was selected to the Pro Bowl five times and is known and one of the premier kickoff returners in NFL history, still ranking fourth in NFL history in kick return average (28.7 ypr).

After his NFL career, Mr. Woodson spent 35 years as a life-insurance agent. He also worked as a volunteer chaplain for the Nevada prison system.