How Charles Woodson embraced Packers

Pete Dougherty
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Charles Woodson, had 38 interceptions during his Packers career.

After the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 30-20 on Sunday, I went to the Raiders' locker room rather than the Packers' to get Charles Woodson's take on his former team.

Woodson did a long session with reporters, almost all of whom covered the Raiders, and several times was asked whether he was coming back next year. Each time he smiled and answered with some version of, "We'll see after the season."

Except for a trace of gray in his beard, he looked like the same guy who last played for the Packers in 2012. He gave off the sense he still really enjoys playing the game.

So it was kind of a shocker when he announced Monday that the final two games of this season will be his last in the NFL.

Woodson's connection to Green Bay endures

But it really isn't any surprise. At 39, Woodson is beyond old for a defensive back in the NFL, a position where even 35-year olds are rare. This season there are 37 players in the league 35 or older, and only three are defensive backs. Woodson is the oldest. The others are Minnesota's Terrence Newman (37) and Detroit's Rashean Mathis (35), with the latter on injured reserve because of a concussion.

One lasting memory of Woodson will be the long talk coach Mike McCarthy had with him on Clarke Hinkle Field immediately after a night practice early in training camp 2006, which was McCarthy's first season as coach and Woodson's first with the Packers. Woodson had signed in free agency basically because no one else was willing to pay him a big contract and play him at cornerback. He wasn't thrilled to be with them, and it showed.

I remember him showing great reactions playing the ball in that camp but getting off to a slow start in the regular season. It looked like the Packers had made a mistake.

Ex-Packer Woodson to retire after 18 seasons

That couldn't have been more wrong. In the next fewyearsWoodson went on to become one of their two or three most important players. He turned out to be the perfect nickel cornerback in Dom Capers' defense when Capers took over as coordinator in 2009. Woodson's intelligence,athleticismand courage made him a difference maker of the highest order at a hybrid linebacker-coverage position where he was as big a threat to blitz as jump a pass route, and an excellent tackler in the run game.

Just as interesting is how much he grew to like it in Green Bay. He joined the team in the NFL's smallest city reluctantly, and understandably so. He left it even more reluctantly, as respected and revered by all his teammates as any defensive player in the Packers' locker room since Reggie White.

In 2021, Woodson will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He almost surely will get in on his first chance, and sometime that season the Packers will have a halftime ceremony to unveil his name alongside the franchise's other Hall of Famers on the Lambeau Field façade. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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