Woodson, Driver Earn Rightful Spot in History

After careers filled with ups and downs, Charles Woodson and Donald Driver finally have their Super Bowl rings. The two proud veterans talk about the night, a celebration made more meaningful by the long roads they endured.

Charles Woodson and Donald Driver had paid their dues.

That's what made the Green Bay Packers' ring ceremony on Thursday night so special.

Woodson, a first-round pick in 1998, reached the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders in 2002. Driver, a seventh-round pick in 1999, reached the NFC Championship Game with Woodson in 2007. Neither player, however, had hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy or earned the all-important Super Bowl ring until the Packers' stunning run to the championship.

The glittering new jewelry seemed to amplify the personalities of Woodson and Driver, in particular. The always-thoughtful Woodson said he didn't cry but it was obvious what the night had meant. Driver, who smiles his way through rainy days, lit up Lambeau Field's Frozen in Time ice cream shop more than all of the TV cameras and flashbulbs that had filled the room.

"Heavy. It feels heavy, as it should be," Woodson said. "I feel like this is something I worked long and hard for. I feel like it's my right to wear this ring. I feel like I worked very hard playing this game. I feel like every time I'm on that field, I leave it all out there on the field. That's the way I've always played this game. I feel like I deserve to win a championship. I feel like it's my rightful place in history to be a Super Bowl champion and I finally accomplished that."

Woodson couldn't have imagined it would take this long. He was a Pro Bowler for each of his first four seasons in the league. During his third season, 2000, he helped lead the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game but they lost at home to Baltimore 16-3. The following season, the Raiders were ousted in the infamous "Tuck Rule" game in the divisional round at New England. In his fifth season, 2002, Woodson missed eight games with shoulder and leg injuries but returned in time for the playoffs. This time, Oakland broke through to win the AFC but got routed by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.

Then, showing how fleeting success can be, Woodson's fortunes changed. In 2003, the Raiders went 4-12. In one of coach Bill Callahan's final moves before being dismissed, he benched Woodson and running back Charlie Garner for the season finale. In 2004, the Raiders went 5-11 and Woodson missed the final three games with a knee injury. In 2005, Woodson's season ended after six games with a broken leg.

Woodson, once one of the league's dominant defenders while picking off 11 passes and not missing a game in his first four seasons, suddenly had become an unwanted man after missing 20 games over his next four seasons with merely six interceptions. Unwanted, that is, for everyone except the Packers.

In Green Bay, Woodson experienced a career rebirth almost beyond imagination. In five seasons with the Packers, Woodson has 30 of his 47 career interceptions and nine of his 11 career touchdowns. The Super Bowl championship adds to a growing Hall of Fame resume.

"It was definitely an emotional moment, a moment that I've waited a long time for," Woodson said of getting his ring. "Finally, it's here and I get to hold up a championship ring. It's an incredible honor, proud to be a part of this team, proud to be a Green Bay Packer, proud of what we were able to accomplish this season with everything that went on. We kept fighting through it all and that's the reason why we're here tonight."

Driver had endured a career's worth of bitter playoff disappointments. There was the first Lambeau Field playoff loss in franchise history in 2002, the fourth-and-26 nightmare in 2003 and another home playoff loss in 2004. Green Bay was horrendous in 2005, showed signs of a rebirth in 2006 and reached the NFC Championship Game in 2007, only to suffer the most painful of defeats in overtime. There was another painful overtime playoff loss in 2009 before an injury-plagued 2010 season that couldn't have felt any better, even though he watched most of the final three quarters of the Super Bowl from the sideline with ankle and knee injuries.

"I was amazed," Driver said of his first impression of the ring. "It was truly what I expected, more than what I expected. We saw it on the screen, everyone was looking at it like, ‘OK, let's see.' Once we saw it, everybody was like, ‘What!?' I went over to Wood and gave him a hug and said, ‘This is what we dreamed of for a long time.'"

It's a wait that made Thursday night extra special for two of the team's all-time greats.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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