For Charles Woodson, the joy of seven brilliant seasons outweighs the pain of how it all ended.
After being unceremoniously dumped by the Green Bay Packers following the 2012 season, Woodson’s laughter couldn’t hide the fact that he’s still hurt by how his incredible seven-year run with the team ended.
“Every time you talk about it, it opens up the wound a little bit,” Woodson said with a laugh during a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday.
“Now you’re back talking about it this week and I’m angry again, know what I’m saying?” Woodson continued with even a bigger laugh. “So, I guess I ain’t ever getting over it.”
Nonetheless, he called his time with the Packers a “special” part of his career. With the Packers, Woodson did more than resurrect a career that was headed in the wrong direction: He authored a Hall of Fame-worthy resume, won a Defensive Player of the Year award and earned a Super Bowl ring.
“It’s been talked about over and over about when I first went there and the apprehension about going there,” Woodson said. “But, man, just getting there and finally getting entrenched within the Packer community and all the people of Wisconsin, being around the organization and the uniqueness that it has, just had to give it a chance. I’m very fortunate to have gone there and spent seven years there. It was a wonderful experience.”
Woodson spoke while eyeballs-deep in preparation for his first game against his former team. Yes, he wants to win. He also wants to add another football to his collection.
In October, Woodson added Denver’s Peyton Manning to the long list of quarterbacks he’s intercepted. On Sunday, Woodson — who is tied for fifth all-time with 65 interceptions — will get his shot Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“It would be great to get him, man,” Woodson said. “The ball, of course I’m keeping it. I don’t know where I’d put it yet, but I’d definitely keep it. It’d be great to pick him off (but) it’s about winning the game.”
Woodson spent seven seasons with the Packers, picking off 38 passes from 2006 through 2012 and setting a franchise record with nine interceptions returned for touchdowns. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year with nine interceptions in 2009, was part of a Super Bowl championship in 2010 and added seven more interceptions in 2011. In 2012, Woodson moved from cornerback to a combo safety-cornerback. He played only seven games due to a broken collarbone and was released at the end of the season.
Now, he’s in his third season in his second go-round with the Raiders.
“I remember when I first came there, I talked to you guys about just taking it one year at a time,” Woodson said. “I never envisioned getting this far into it. Just extremely, extremely blessed to still be able to go out here and play this game. It’s a thing I love and I truly feel like I had one of the best careers of any player out there, so I’m blessed to continue to keep going.”
The Packers have watched Woodson throughout the season due to matchups with common opponents. Now, the focus is more intense as the Packers (9-4) attempt to clinch a playoff berth this weekend against the Raiders (6-7). At 39 years old, the NFL’s oldest defensive player is tied for third in the NFL with five interceptions and is first with four forced fumbles.
“It’s hard not to watch Charles Woodson,” Rodgers said. “He’s obviously a former Packer, a great friend. He was a great leader for us at a time when we needed that type of leadership and he took us to a special place and had a lot of memories together. He’s playing great football. It’s impressive to see. Obviously, I’m a little biased but I think any fair opinion out there would say that he’s playing the position at the top of his game right now. So, he sticks outs.”
While this will be the first Rodgers-Woodson regular-season matchup, they waged daily duels on the practice field, especially during training camp. Perhaps because of Woodson, Rodgers has the lowest interception percentage in NFL history. Perhaps because of Rodgers, Woodson transformed himself into one of the best cornerbacks of all-time after his first eight seasons with the Raiders ended with a mutual parting of the ways.
“He made me a lot better player,” Rodgers said. “I really got to work on my look-offs and my no-look passes against Charles because if you weren’t aware of where he was at every single rep, he’d make you look bad. When you’re a backup, you care so much about how those practices go and every rep, and the last thing you want is to see Charles holding that ball up after an interception and tossing it back to you. So, he made everybody better when he was here, and he’s still doing it.”
Woodson wasn’t sure if those practice-field battles would serve any purpose on Sunday. Back then, Woodson played cornerback and in the slot. Now, he’s at safety, so he’s seeing the game from a different perspective. Woodson said the key for he and his teammates will be to “keep it simple.”
“It’s about me being patient in the back end, not going for pump fakes and things like that,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient when you’re at deep safety. It is fun watching the film and seeing his mechanics and the way he moves around. I’ve never quite studied him like this preparing for a game, so it’ll be a lot of fun do it.”
Woodson’s been having plenty of fun this season. Among players age 39 and older in NFL history, nobody has recorded more interceptions in a season than Woodson. Rodgers, however, said it would be “disrespectful” to be surprised by Woodson’s production this season.
Woodson isn’t surprised, either. After spending most of his career at cornerback, starting with being the No. 4 pick in the 1998 draft by the Raiders, he’s now in his third season as a full-time safety.
“This is exactly what I expected, because I felt like when I came here, then I fully made this transition to the safety position,” Woodson said. “Really, I felt like a rookie as far as trying to learn the position, the different nuances of the position. So, I felt like I was always going to get better. This is my third year playing the safety position, and I felt like each year that I’ve played I’ve gotten better. So, this is exactly what I expected.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.