Friday, 25 December 2015
Raiders' Charles Woodson leaves many memories behind as he heads into retirement
After announcing his impending retirement this week, Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson will be playing the final home game of what is almost certainly a Hall of Fame career in front of The Black Hole on Thursday when the Silver & Black host the San Diego Chargers.
Seems like yesterday when I was sitting with Charles Woodson in Ann Arbor, Mich., outside the football facility at the University of Michigan, talking about life and football and what lay ahead for the Heisman Trophy winner. It was 1998, weeks before Woodson was drafted fourth overall by the Raiders. We talked for maybe an hour, interviewing for the first installment of a series of stories that I wrote that year about a rookie's transition into the NFL. He was confident but not cocky. Introspective. Smart. Classy. I remember thinking how this was one kid who had things in perspective. Over the course of that season, I wound up doing three or four interviews with him in California, tracking his first year, and was struck by his consistent composure. Over the years, same dude. He seemed unflappable. He certainly had to have that demeanor on the night in Foxborough, Mass., when he barreled into Tom Brady to force the fumble in the fourth quarter of an AFC playoff game ... only to have the turnover overturned by something called the Tuck Rule.
Though Woodson spent 11 of his pro seasons with the Raiders, and I'll never forget his Heisman Trophy heroics for the 1997 national champion Michigan Wolverines, it's his tenure with the Green Bay Packers that stands out to me. He led the league in interceptions in 2009 on his way to winning NFL defensive MVP honors. I remember watching a distraught Woodson leave the field at Cowboys Stadium after breaking his collarbone in the first half of Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But mostly, I loved him for his locker room speech after the Pack vanquished the Chicago Bears two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. Woodson, well aware that President Obama was a Bears fan, exhorted his teammates, "The president don't want to come watch us at the Super Bowl, guess what?" he yelled. "We're going to see him." And sure enough, they did.
Lindsay H. Jones
It took 18 years, and until their 10th and final game against each other, but Charles Woodson finally picked off Peyton Manning. Twice. When Woodson intercepted the five-time NFL MVP two times during a game between Woodson’s Raiders and Manning’s Broncos on Oct. 11, it was a fitting end for a rivalry between two of the greatest players of their generation that dated back nearly two decades, starting when Woodson edged Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. And though the Broncos wound up winning that game in Oakland, it was really a day that showed why Woodson is so special. His first pick off Manning came let in the second quarter, with the Broncos in the red zone, trying to score a touchdown just before halftime. Manning tried to zip a pass to Owen Daniels, but his throw was off target. Woodson was in perfect position, caught it easily and brought it out of the end zone, just like he was returning a punt. It was classic Woodson, hardly looking like a player who had turned 39 years old earlier that week. Never mind that Manning looked like a player far older than 39, this was a day years in the making for Woodson.
Woodson's career is remarkable more for a sustained level of greatness than any particular individual highlights. So as far as career moments go, Woodson picking off Peyton Manning twice in a game this season will always stand out to me. Hauling in an interception on his former college rival was one of the few feats that had eluded the future Hall of Famer until that point. Woodson didn't need to play an 18th season, or return to the Raiders at all in 2013, but his resolution re-inforced his status as a generational player.
Two things have always jumped out to me about Charles Woodson. The first is how dominant he has been consistently throughout his career, beginning with the Heisman Trophy-winning season at Michigan. He’ll finish his career the way he started it — at the top. Nine Pro Bowls in three different decades is a remarkable feat. The other? Thirteen defensive touchdowns. Just shows how impactful, how dominant he has been for the better part of a generation.