When you think about the annals of football history, there are a few names that come to mind about some of the greatest of all-time. Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Deion Sanders, Tom Brady, Jim Brown and more all immediately spring to mind when it comes to those who have broken the mold in the NFL, but who has had the greatest career out of them all?
For my money a strong case could be made for Charles Woodson, who announced that at the end of this NFL season he will retire after 18 NFL seasons. His final home game—and quite possibly the Raiders’ final home game in Oakland depending on if they move back to Los Angeles—will be Christmas Eve against the Chargers, while his final game will be January 3rd at Kansas City.
Truly a one-of-a-kind athlete, Woodson was named Ohio’s “Mr. Football” out of Ross High School his senior year and a USA Today High School All-American. He finished his high school career with the school’s records for rushing yards (3,861) and scoring (466 points).
As a Michigan Wolverine in college, Woodson had arguably the greatest single season for a college football player in history in 1997. As a two-way player for the Wolverines, a rarity in today’s day and age, Woodson led the Wolverines to a 1997 NCAA National Championship and became the last football player to win the Heisman Trophy who was not a running back or a quarterback. He was also only the second two-way player ever to win the Heisman and the first since Notre Dame’s Leon Hart to do so. In that storied 1997 season Woodson was a first-team All-American, Sporting News Player of the Year, Chic Harley Award, The Bronko Nagurski Trophy, The Chuck Bednarik Award, The Jim Thorpe Award, Jack Tatum Trophy recipient, and the winner of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football.
In 1998, Woodson was drafted fourth overall by the Raiders and spent his first eight seasons with the team as a four-time Pro Bowl selection as well as being named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. He then moved onto Green Bay for seven seasons, which included four more Pro Bowl selections and a victory in Super Bowl XLV. Within that time, he became the only player in NFL history to have at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks. You can read out numbers about Woodson until you are blue in the face, but his influence come beyond statistical comparisons.
in his football career that has spanned over two decades between high school and the NFL, Woodson has managed to avoid major controversy or incident in a league that has scarred everyone at some point or another. The closest thing he’s ever come to scandal is calling out noted Chicago Bears fan and President of the United States, Barack Obama. As a member of the Green Bay Packers in a post-game locker room interview, Woodson stated, “The President don’t want to come watch us win the Super Bowl? Guess what? We’ll go see him”
Woodson came through with his promise, as The Packers visited the White House after winning the 2010 Super Bowl. Obama would make a reference to Woodson’s famed speech stating “I have learned something that many quarterbacks have learned. Don’t mess with Charles Woodson.”
Even at Woodson’s advanced age of 39, Woodson returned to the Raiders where he has been an above average safety and mentor for three seasons. The ageless wonder currently has five interceptions in 14 games so far this year. Woodson’s 65 interceptions for his career puts him at fifth all-time in the league’s history.
While the numbers will hold up over time, it’s Woodson’s ability to be a contributor in several NFL eras while not being in headlines for any BS that seems constant throughout the season is damn near incredible. “Standing on the sidelines before games. The National Anthem, just really listening to it, listening to the words. You know this is a great, great country that we live in to be able to play this great game,” Woodson said to reporters when asked what he’ll miss the most. “I’ll miss that moment. I’ll miss away games. I’ll miss packing up, gathering what you need, the players that you need. That’s all you have. You take it, you go on the road and you’re going in there into someone else’s stadium trying to win a game at their home. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss that traveling and just taking what’s necessary to get a win.”
A class act in a game where, as we all saw this past Sunday, could be hard to be a class act. Woodson may not have been the greatest NFL player ever, but as far as being an ambassador for the game of football from high school to now, you’d be hard pressed to find a career who has ben better. He won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, as Woodson recently signed with a television agency. Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS or NBC should be getting a damn good analyst in the near future, but the game will truly miss one of football’s greatest athletes.
Photo Credit: NFL.