Former Packers great Charles Woodson's star to shine bright in Pro Football Hall of Fame
GREEN BAY - In large part because of his outstanding play while reviving his career with the Green Bay Packers, Charles Woodson is now a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame player.
Woodson on Saturday evening officially became the 27th member of the franchise voted into the Hall.
Among his accomplishments as a cornerback and later a safety with the Packers was winning the award as the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2009, being named first-team All-Pro twice (2009 and ’11) and winning a Super Bowl in the 2010 season.
He’s also the only Packers player to lead the NFL in interceptions in two seasons (’09 and ’11) and ranks fourth on the team’s all-time interceptions list with 38. Add his 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, and Woodson is tied for fifth on the league’s all-time interceptions list at 65.
Woodson also carries the distinction of being the player quarterback Aaron Rodgers has called the best he has ever played with.
“Charles dominated in a way I never saw anybody dominate before,” Rodgers said in 2019. “The 2009 season, one of the greatest seasons I've ever seen. What he did on defense, impacting the game, I've never seen a player impact the game that way.”
Woodson was one of five modern-era players voted into the Hall’s 2021 class Saturday, along with quarterback Peyton Manning, receiver Calvin Johnson, safety John Lynch and guard Alan Faneca.
Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler also was among the 15 modern-era finalists for this year’s Hall of Fame class but did not get voted into the Hall. Butler, though, moved another rung up the ladder by making the cut to 10. At the Hall selection meeting the 48 voters cut the modern-era list from 15 to 10, then from 10 to five, followed by an up-or-down vote on the final five, with 80% approval required to get in the Hall. This was Butler’s second year as a finalist, but in 2019 he did not make the cut to 10.
Woodson’s seven seasons with the Packers ran from 2006 through ’12, and over that time his 36 interceptions were the third-most in the NFL, behind only Asante Samuel (44) and Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed (39).
“The Green Bay Packers and all our fans congratulate Charles on this tremendous, well-deserved honor,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. “Charles played the game the right way, and we would not have won Super Bowl XLV without his outstanding play and leadership. He had a remarkable career, including seven great seasons in Green Bay. We look forward to his induction in Canton and welcoming him back to Lambeau Field to unveil his name in the stadium next season.”
Woodson signed with the Packers as a free agent after his career had soared and then waned with the Raiders. He’d gone to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons with Oakland and been named first-team All-Pro once, but then injuries cost him 21 games over the next four seasons and a falling out with the organization led to departure in free agency.
When Woodson’s market in free agency wasn’t as strong as expected, former Packers general manager Ted Thompson pounced and signed Woodson to a seven-year deal. Woodson has acknowledged he signed with the Packers only because he had no other good offers – the Raiders had put out word he was a malcontent – and he was wary of coming to Green Bay because it’s a small city.
However, the marriage with the Packers turned out to be a boon for both sides. Woodson was a difference-maker on the field while also becoming the most respected player in the locker room.
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As good as his first two seasons with the Packers were – he had 12 interceptions – his career really took off when the Packers hired Dom Capers as defensive coordinator in 2009. When Capers watched the film of the ’08 Packers while preparing for his first season with the team, he saw Woodson as an ideal player for the “star” slot corner position in his nickel defense. That’s the same position Capers had played Rod Woodson when they were together with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s. Rod Woodson won defensive player of the year while playing for Capers in 1993 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2009.
Like his counterpart in Pittsburgh, Charles Woodson thrived in that role, where his elite athleticism and intelligence allowed him to affect games playing the ball in coverage and as a blitzer and run defender. It put him in the middle of the field, where he played cat-and-mouse with quarterbacks and often won.
“They were just so versatile,” Capers said of both Woodsons. “You kind of built things around them in terms of they could blitz, they could cover, they were tough. We blitzed Charles a lot, but he was such a good tackler, he played like a small outside linebacker. If you remember when we won the Super Bowl we played like 850 snaps of nickel defense, and we played it against a lot of (different) personnel groups just because of the physicality of Charles.”
In that first season in the star role, Woodson led the NFL in interceptions (nine) and interception returns for touchdowns (three). He also had two sacks, four fumbles forced and one fumble recovered. He and Reggie White (1998) are the only Packers players to win the defensive player of year, an award that dates to 1971.
Woodson remained in that star role for the rest of his Packers career.
“Charles was a good enough athlete to play corner, he could go out and cover with the best receivers,” Capers said. “When we moved him inside he was closer to the action – very instinctive, got his hands on a lot of balls, made big plays. To me, you evaluate the great players, they impact the game because two or three times a game they’re going to make plays that have a big-time effect on a game.”
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Combined with his 11 years with the Raiders – eight before joining the Packers, as well as three after leaving them – Woodson ranks among the very best defensive backs to play in the NFL. His 65 career interceptions not only are tied for fifth in league history, but they’re the most by any player who had at least 20 sacks.
Another of Woodson’s memorable seasons was the year before Capers arrived, 2008. Woodson won over his teammates and the organization that year by playing through a broken big toe for the final seven weeks, and playing at a high level. After the injury, he routinely sat out practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays and took part only in light work Fridays yet still had one of his best years – seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and a career-high three sacks.
The defensive coaching staff at the time marveled at Woodson’s ability the second half of that season to watch practice and game video and visualize himself doing all the movements of each play, then carrying it over to the field on Sunday despite barely practicing all week.
His leadership grew from there, and by the time the Packers won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season he was the most respected voice in the locker room. Though he was unable to finish the Packers’ Super Bowl win over Pittsburgh because of a broken collarbone sustained at the end of the first half, the team honored his leadership by engraving on the inside of each Super Bowl ring the words “mind, goal, purpose, heart,” taken from his postgame speech in the locker room after the NFC championship when he said the players must have “One mind, one goal, one purpose, one heart” to win the Super Bowl.
And at the White House ceremony to celebrate the Packers’ Super Bowl win, President Barack Obama, an avowed Chicago Bears fan, referenced a comment Woodson had made after the Packers had beaten the Bears to win the NFC championship.
“Charles said, ‘If the president doesn’t want to come watch us at the Super Bowl, then we’re going to him,’” Obama said. “... Charles, you’re a man of your word. And I’ve learned something that every NFL quarterback knows: Don’t mess with Charles Woodson.”
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