After Darren Woodson ended his 12-season NFL career, he felt challenged to find something as rewarding as winning Super Bowls.
The three-time All-Pro safety who owns three championship rings has found it by helping former players in need through FanPrint.
FanPrint provides custom-made goods to the public, most notably creative t-shirts for which consumers can choose artwork that includes offerings by graphic designers worldwide. The company has the approval of NFL Players Inc., the marketing arm of the players' union, and a portion of proceeds from sales of FanPrint merchandise goes to the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund.
That fund was established in 1990 — two years before Woodson was an NFL rookie with the Cowboys — and has distributed more than $13 million to 1,800 former players.
"I didn't know about the fund until we researched it and then jumped into it," says Woodson, FanPrint's director of partnerships and an initial investor. "As an NFL player I heard about the fund in years past, but had not thought that much of it.
"Everything is exclusively licensed by the NFLPA and FanPrint. Us giving back was an easy decision on our part because we wanted to assist those players.
"As a guy who played in the NFL and to see guys falling short of their hopes and dreams, or not play long in the league — there are friends of mine who fell on hard times. If those moneys are going back to those players, that is huge for us."
Woodson, who also is involved with a company helping military vets find jobs and does weekly work for ESPN, quickly was intrigued by FanPrint. He believed the ability to use graphic designs from all over the world separates FanPrint from its competitors.
"What is really awesome about it is all the designs are made by real fans for the fans," he says. "From all over the world; a guy in Bangladesh who goes to the site and wants a specific design, we can do it."
One of the designers, Brandon Moore, seeks something with personality in each of his t-shirts. Some of his projects might have decorations, others could be a simple statement, perhaps a player's nickname such as Megatron or Kaeptonite.
"The passion for sports design probably comes from being a sports fan first," Moore says, "and having played baseball, football, basketball and soccer as a kid. The competition, team camaraderie and game history are all things I love about sports and something I try to reflect in my designs."
Not every idea makes its way onto a shirt, of course. As Wooden says, some of the ideas are a bit too far out — "way off the wall" is his phrase — for use.
"We want to push the envelope and put out the best of the best out there," he says. "We are getting the NFLPA to buy into what we are doing because it's tasteful and fun."
And it's rewarding because former players benefit after hitting hard times.
"I think the biggest part of this is the pioneers of this game in the '70s and '80s, they also had to have a job and still play," Woodson says. "And now their bodies have fallen apart. Those are the guys we are benefiting through FanPrint. This speaks directly to my heart."
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