Behind the expensive suits and fashionable hats that so often grab the focus of the television cameras after each game, Charles Woodson is more about substance than style. For as sharp as he looks off the field, his true colors show on the field, when his attire is grass-stained and muddied.
On Tuesday, Woodson was one of two Packers selected to the Pro Bowl squad, a most-deserving selection not only because of the numbers he has put up but because of what he means to the Packers. He has been their MVP this season, playing at two positions, and without him, the Packers' defense probably would be the worst in the league.
Woodson has been the ultimate gamer, a moniker that never has been more evident for the 11-year NFL cornerback than this season. Perhaps his Pro Bowl teammate, safety Nick Collins, summed it up best when he said of Woodson on Tuesday, "You can say so many great things about the guy."
For starters, Woodson, in his third year with the Packers, got his first Pro Bowl campaign in Green Bay started with a broken toe. An injury that easily could sideline a player at a position that so clearly needs to rely on footwork, the unstable toe never seemed to affect Woodson. He just fought through it without sacrificing performance.
Missing practice time never hurt Woodson on Sunday. He returned an interception for a touchdown against the Lions on Sept. 14 to seal a victory, and two weeks later, he took a pick back 62 yards to give the Packers the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of a slugfest at Tampa.
Almost miraculously, Woodson's health got better during this time.
"It was hard, and the one thing about it is anytime you play with an injury like that, you don't know if it's going to get worse, and the possibility of having to really miss some significant time," said Woodson, "but I was blessed to be able to play, and the toe actually healed during the time that I was playing for those few weeks. It was tough. It was hard. I took a few shots to kind of take some of the pain off, but when you're shooting for something and you've got a goal, you kind of block it out and go play football."
While at least four other players in the Packers' defensive backfield this season have been forced to the sideline because of injuries, or missed time during games because of them or tried to play with them and were at less than their best, Woodson played like an All-Pro. All five of his interceptions came within a span of eight games, and against the Cowboys on Sept. 21 and Colts on Oct. 19, he played a large part in limiting big-play wide receivers Terrell Owens and Reggie Wayne to just four catches combined for 41 yards.
That Woodson has gone without an interception in the last five games may at least have something to do with the coaching staff moving him to safety the last three games. In an effort to put their best players on the field, the Packers tried to remedy their banged-up secondary by putting Woodson at safety, a position he has never played. Woodson learned of the switch just two days before the Panthers game on Nov. 30, yet responded with nine tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Woodson's position switch has put him much more in a run support role than in his natural playmaking, pass-defending role at cornerback. He had 11 more tackles vs. the Texans on Dec. 7 and six tackles and a sack on Sunday at Jacksonville.
Through it all, Woodson has never complained. He has, rather, been brutally honest. While other players and coaches have struggled to come up with answers as to why the Packers' defense has struggled late in the season, Woodson offered a simpler reason. "We're just not a very good defense right now," he said after the Packers gave up 549 yards to the Texans in a 24-21 loss at Lambeau Field.
When general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy talk about "Packer People," Woodson should be at the top of the list. He has been as much or more a football player than anyone else on the team, and even with four other Pro Bowl selections and an eight-interception season to his credit, this season has been his best.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodson defines ‘Packer People'
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