Signing a free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers five years ago was the best career move of Charles Woodson’s life.
It led the veteran cornerback to achieve his long coveted dream of winning a championship. It could also result in Woodson one day getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
To say that Woodson’s NFL career has been revitalized in Green Bay would be an understatement. Of Woodson’s 30 interceptions in five seasons with the Packers, eight have been returned for touchdowns.
Woodson also has forced 13 fumbles as a Packer and recovered five more. He has been a dynamic big-play machine in Green Bay and a catalyst for coordinator Dom Capers’ highly touted defense.
Don’t think that Hall of Fame voters haven’t taken notice. Woodson’s five-year reign of terror with the Packers, combined with a solid eight-year career with the Oakland Raiders, makes him a probable, if not likely candidate to be enshrined in Canton.
“Woodson is not Reggie White, and he’s not Deion Sanders, but I think his credentials are better than some cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame,” said Cliff Christl, a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter for the past 10 years who has covered the NFL for nearly four decades. “I think he’s pretty close to being almost a certainty, almost a cinch.”
Christl, a former Packers beat writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, is one of 44 Hall of Fame voters. He knows not everyone on the selection panel will share his high opinion of Woodson.
“I don’t think Woodson’s going to be an automatic,” Christl said. “You’re going to probably have to sell some people. But I do think he’s got a really strong chance.”
There are 15 cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame, although four of them also played safety during their careers. Only one has more interception returns for touchdowns than Woodson, who also ranks eighth among that group in interception return yards.
Woodson, a 13-year veteran, has 47 career interceptions, which is on par with Hall of Famers Herb Adderley (48), Jimmy Johnson (47), Mike Haynes (46) and Roger Wehrli (40).
When asked during a recent interview with AnnArbor.com how many more years he plans to play, Woodson replied: “As many as they’ll have me in Green Bay.”
That would suggest Woodson is capable of increasing his interception total to the level of such Hall of Famers as Mel Renfro (52), Sanders (53), Willie Brown (54), Darrell Green (54) and Lem Barney (56).
But Christl isn’t a big proponent of relying solely on statistics to select Hall of Famers.
“I don’t think it’s just interceptions,” he said. “Interceptions can be a deceiving stat for cornerbacks. Sometimes that means they’re picking on you. But some of the really special ones, teams just avoided throwing in their area. In that regard, Woodson’s a lot like Adderley. I mean that was Adderley’s forte, making big plays in big games.”
Christl maintains that Adderley, who played under Vince Lombardi during the Packers’ Glory Years in the 1960s, is the best cornerback in team history. He doesn’t hesitate to rank Woodson second best on the Packers’ all-time list.
“I talk to a lot of people — scouts, old coaches — and get their feedback, and I can’t imagine that most of those people won’t endorse Woodson (for the Hall of Fame) at some point once he retires,” Christl said. “And the other thing is just watching a guy play. Great players jump out at you. You don’t have to be a scout to watch a football game and determine who the special players are, and Woodson’s one of those guys.”
Even as Woodson’s coverage skills have declined with advancing age, he’s still capable of making plays and being a difference-maker.
“Next to Clay Matthews he was still the biggest play guy on that defense,” Christl said. “And they found a way to use him to take advantage of that skill.”
Some say Woodson’s tenure in Oakland will hurt his Hall of Fame chances. In five of his eight seasons he recorded just one interception. But he also earned four Pro Bowl berths and was part of the Raiders’ 2002 Super Bowl qualifying team.
“He came out of (Oakland) with somewhat of a reputation of being a disgruntled player, and having had somewhat of a checkered career there because of injuries,” Christl said. “But let’s face it, he was one of the premier athletes in the league regardless of what happened there.”
The fact is, Woodson was very good with the Raiders but took his game to another level in Green Bay. He has added three Pro Bowl berths and an NFL defensive player of the year award to his lofty list of accomplishments.
But nothing was sweeter for Woodson than the Packers’ victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV, even though he broke his collarbone and couldn’t play in the second half.
“It’s a thing where from now on, for the rest of history, I’ll be a champion, always looked at as a champion,” Woodson said. “That says it all.”
That championship can only enhance Woodson’s Hall of Fame credentials in the eyes of voters.
“I think it helps any time you’ve got that on your resume that you won a Super Bowl, and particularly in his case because of the big plays,” Christl said. “He contributed big plays to a Super Bowl champion.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.