With all due respect to the greatest to ever play in the secondary like Night Train Lane, Rod Woodson, “Neon” Deon Sanders and Mel Blount, has there ever been a more complete example of a cornerback in the National Football League than Charles Woodson?
Who but he could sprint with the sprinters, hit with the hitters and make quarterbacks dread his pillow-soft, interception-attracting mitts?
Clearly, there has not been many like him.
But I’m just asking for the sake of feigned objectivity. What football fan worth his weight in artificial turf could forget that fateful day when Woodson first burst upon the national stage at Michigan? The 1995 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Jim Thorpe Award winner, Sporting News Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award winner, and still the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1997.
During his years as a Wolverine it seemed as if Woodson was the gift that kept on giving.
In his final college game, Woodson pulled off perhaps the greatest individual defensive play in the history of the the Rose Bowl: one-hand interception that inspired me run out and grab a maize and blue jersey with his name on it.
It is so difficult to believe that all of that happened 20 years ago.
This Sunday, Charles Woodson will suit up and play in his 9th Pro Bowl, which will also be his last.
Though a swell of melancholy bubbled up in my chest at the typing of the prior sentence, I am buoyed by the fact that I can say I saw a football immortal play his game with excellence, dignity and pride. Barring injury, Charles Woodson’s play has been the biggest, brightest spot for Oakland Raiders fans for over a decade.
He was an integral part of the Green Bay Packers from 2006 through 2012 and a major reason why they won Super Bowl XLV.
The only player in NFL history to have 60 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career, Woodson recorded five interceptions in his first year in the NFL and five interceptions this past season as well. Talk about capping off a career.
Woodson will be playing on Team Rice at the Pro Bowl, coached by Jerry Rice. If for no other reason, I'll be watching the game in appreciation for how he played and what he meant to the game as we bid farewell to phenomenon, the likes of which won't be seen again for a long time.