Growing up in Philadelphia, Shawn Wooden never had the opportunity to go fishing. That changed in a big way when the Miami Dolphins selected the Notre Dame safety in the 1996 NFL Draft.
Soon after the sixth-round pick arrived in South Florida to prepare for his rookie season, the team held its very first fishing tournament, which benefited cystic fibrosis research. Wooden fished in the event, which is now a part of Fins Weekend along with a golf tournament and social events that raise money to support the charitable efforts of the Miami Dolphins Foundation. And he has never stopped fishing.
“The first time I ever fished was in this fishing tournament,” said Wooden, 45, while aboard Tally Ho, a Buddy Davis sportfisherman owned and skippered by Rick Simmons of Boca Raton, during the 23rd annual tournament last month out of Miami Beach Marina.
The thrill of catching fish that day immediately had Wooden hooked on the sport. Now a managing director at Principal Financial Group, Wooden said he fishes whenever he gets a chance, whether it’s for bass in lakes in his Pembroke Pines neighborhood or billfish off South Florida.
“I love to fish,” Wooden said. “I always said the best boat’s a friend’s boat. I don’t have a boat myself. I would never even try to captain a boat because it’s kind of scary when you get next to other boats and when you’re trying to dock and things like that. These guys have a special skill set in that. I had a special skill set in trying to break up passes and tackle people. They have a special skill set in being able to drive a boat and make sure that you put it back into the dock without damaging it.”
Asked who the best fishermen were when he played for the Dolphins, the fun-loving Wooden didn’t hesitate with his answer:
“For some reason kickers are good at golf, they’re good at fishing, they’re good at everything other than playing football,” he said with a laugh, adding that former Dolphins linebacker and current radio talk show host Channing Crowder is a great angler.
“Channing, he’s a fisherman. Channing’s a fisherman that played football. He’s not a football player that fishes. He is definitely 100 percent all in. I’m talking about freshwater, deepwater, whatever it is, Channing loves it, he just loves being out there. I say, ‘Channing, you’re definitely like a backwoods type of guy that just happened to be good at playing football.’
“We had a dinner with the rookies, and Channing’s telling one of the rookies about a couple of fishing holes [near the Dolphins practice facility in Davie] where he could fish. The guy’s like, ‘I listen to your radio show, I know you fish,’ and Channing’s telling him where to fish on a lake during two-a-days. I’m like, ‘Oh, you must be a kicker.’”
Like Crowder, Wooden enjoys all types of fishing, especially when he gets to do it with family and friends.
“I love the sailfishing, I love going for tuna and all that stuff, wahoo, any gamefish or fun fish,” he said. “Me and my neighbor, we go out to Lake Okeechobee here and there. I’ve got peacock bass in the lake right behind my house. I go out there with the kids, with my little daughters and my son. They just love to hang out with dad and be in the backyard fishing. It’s a good bonding time.”
While fishing on Tally Ho with Simmons, Wooden had a chance to bond with Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The president of the Miami Dolphins Alumni Advisory Board, Wooden said he and his fellow alums are encouraged by Dolphins owner Steve Ross to counsel current players so they get the most out of not only their football careers, but life after football.
“We try to get together as much as possible,” Wooden said. “Mr. Ross does an amazing job of welcoming us back to the team, Coach [Brian] Flores has embraced us as much as any other coach that’s been here, maybe even a little bit more. The players want to see us old guys. Just to say it’s more than football.
“Raekwon’s asking questions about what do you miss the most? What would you have done differently? Those are the type of questions that the younger generation needs to start asking.”
Two things Wooden said he would have done differently: “Save more, spend less.”
As a player who had his career cut short by an injury, and now a financial advisor, Wooden knows better than most the importance of planning for the future. He said overspending and questionable investments have been the downfall for many players.
“I tell rookies, ‘Your contract’s already risky, your job, your income is already risky because we don’t have guaranteed contracts. Tomorrow’s not guaranteed for any of us,’” he said. “My career ended because I slipped and fell on wet grass during workouts. A couple of discs [in his back] burst and my career was over. I’ve seen careers end because players slipped and fell in the shower. You already have enough risk in your life, you don’t need to be that risky.
“Have a plan. Football’s a great career, but it’s not for long. I don’t care if you have a career like Dan Marino, 17 years. Dan Marino has been out of football longer than he’s been in football right now, and he has a lot more years to live, God willing. I try to explain that to guys but we all have that Superman complex where nothing will happen to us and we think we’re going to play forever, and you’re not.”
Wooden has a degree in computer science from Notre Dame — while he was there, he wrote the software for the team’s player and game analysis — but things didn’t quite work out as he planned given his injured back and how his field of study was transformed while he played in the NFL.
“Computers changed a lot from the time I graduated,” he said. “The whole Internet thing and all the stuff nowadays with social media, it kind of almost passed me by in a little less than a decade.”
A good student and fast learner, Wooden was able to pick the brain and learn about business from late Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga. Plus he had a lot of experience sifting through the many deals presented to him and his teammates.
“I was always interested in finance, always talked to guys in the locker room, always shot deals down or dug deep into deals when guys were approached,” said Wooden, who said he learned about matters such as the internal rate of returns and what you should do with your money to make it last. “Actually speaking with Mr. Huizenga, asking those questions: How did you make these decisions? What was in your life that made you do this versus that? It just became very interesting to me and when I was done playing, that’s what I wanted to go into.”
Wooden said he is committed to helping current players because of the help he received when he came to the Dolphins. He said veterans such as Louis Oliver, Terry Kirby, Terrell Buckley, Sean Hill and Robert Bailey looked after him, made sure he ready to play on game days, and also made sure “that you have your head on your shoulders the right way.”
He also pays it forward by participating in Fins Weekend. Wooden, who took part his first four seasons with the Dolphins, loves the event so much that he fished in the 2000 tournament after signing a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears. After one year in Chicago, Wooden returned to Miami for his final four NFL seasons.
“It’s a special weekend,” Wooden said. “It’s fun, we’re out on a Saturday on the water, but it’s a bigger picture than just having fun. We’re raising funds to be able to give opportunities to the youth of South Florida and make sure that they’re able to make this world a better place. If more organizations did that, if more people did that, if we did this worldwide, who knows where we would go as a species? It’s one of those things, you just wish everybody bought into that.
“It’s all about keeping kids in school, giving them opportunities, and that’s all we can do for future generations: Make sure they have the opportunities to better their lives. To me the way you better your life is through education. I’ve always been a strong believer in that. I was raised that way. I was very fortunate to be able to go to a school like Notre Dame and use football as a means.”
A few days after Fins Weekend, nine local high school students were surprised with financial support for college and vocational school through the Nat Moore Scholarship & Grant Endowment Program and FOOTBALL UNITES Project Change Scholarship. The young women and men will study everything from accounting and biomedical science to education and political science.
“Through education you can make sure you have the opportunity to better yourself and also generations to come,” Wooden said. “That’s a major benefit from a weekend like this, where you’re having fun, you’re trying to catch fish, you’re golfing, whatever it is, it’s about coming together as a community in South Florida, raising those dollars and making sure that for generations later, we’re all taken care of. We’ve got to make sure that future generation is good because they’re the ones that are going to be taking care of us when we’re old and decrepit.”