Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (21) during Media Day inside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. The Packers will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
IRVING, TEXAS – Sam Shields was a wide-eyed rookie last spring and remembers being awestruck by the sight of Green Bay Packers veteran cornerback Charles Woodson.
“I was shocked, I was like just staring at him (thinking) I can’t believe I’m sitting in a meeting with Charles Woodson,” said Shields on Wednesday.
Shields was a low-profile undrafted free agent just hoping to learn the ropes playing cornerback in the NFL. He was also naturally shy and needed to muster up enough courage to talk to Woodson, the Heisman Trophy winning, perennial Pro Bowl qualifying, 13-year NFL veteran.
“It took me a while,” said Shields. “I don’t like to talk, I had to get in my mind, ‘I’m a professional now. I have to talk. I have to be mature.’ I went to (Woodson) as a man and I just told him I need help.”
Shields wanted to glean everything he could from the master, and Woodson gladly obliged.
That is one reason the Packers are preparing to play in the Super Bowl this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The development of Shields and Tramon Williams as outside cornerbacks in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme has allowed Woodson to roam the field and create havoc for opposing offenses.
“It’s a lot of fun for me,” said Woodson. “My role is expanded each week. Those guys are my fresh legs. It’s good to have those young guys out there running around at that corner, just allowing me to go inside and just be a football player.”
Woodson is so close to fulfilling his lifelong dream of winning the Super Bowl that he can taste it. That goal has driven him to spend countless hours in the film room and even more time practicing and keeping his 34-year-old body sharp.
Woodson feels appreciated in Green Bay for that work ethic and his willingness to mix it up and sacrifice himself. He didn’t experience the same love when he played for the Oakland Raiders prior to signing with the Packers in 2006.
“Nobody (in Oakland) seemed to want to mention about the fact that I did a lot of that dirty work out there on the field,” said Woodson. “In Green Bay they really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how many times older people have stopped me and said, ‘You know what, we just respect and we love the way you play the game. We love your hard work. We love the way you stick your nose in there on a tackle.’ ”
When reflecting on his career, Woodson remembers entering the league and playing with the likes of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, and can’t believe how quickly the years have passed.
He said he hopes to play perhaps two more years. But he knows the chance to win a title might not come again, which makes Sunday’s game all the more urgent.
“You understand that you’ve got to get it done,” he said while seated at a restaurant table in a makeshift interview area at the team hotel Wednesday morning. “You don’t want to leave the game without having a championship. You want it, because you understand that it is getting close to the end, so you’ve got to do it now.”
As a playoff captain, Woodson has taken on the added role of giving locker room speeches, to rave reviews.
“He’s a great motivator,” said safety Nick Collins.
Woodson’s younger teammates would love nothing more than to win one for the old man.
“I know it means a lot to him,” said Shields, who thinks of Woodson as his big brother. “He’s one of our top captains on the team and everybody knows that he been here before and he wants it bad. So that’s going to make us want it bad.”
Collins calls Woodson a brother, friend and mentor and admires how he assumed teaching and leadership roles.
“He’s (near) the end of the his career,” said Collins. “What better way to go out than with a ring?”
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.