Charles Woodson, raised by Raiders, built a Hall of Fame career in Green Bay

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Charles Woodson didn’t really want to play in Green Bay after eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders. It’s not flashy, it’s cold and he’d heard it wasn’t the most ideal NFL destination for Black players.

But he didn’t really have a choice. When Woodson became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2005 season, he thought more teams would be fighting over him, despite the injuries he had accumulated over the years. That didn’t happen though, so he moved up north to play for the Green Bay Packers. And he said it stung, much like a Wisconsin winter.

“When I got there, I just had that reluctance in my heart and in my spirit and I just couldn’t believe I was in Green Bay,” Woodson told reporters in July. “So it just made me combative off the bat with really kind of everybody.”

Woodson found good fit with Packers

Woodson took time to adjust and get comfortable with his new teammates and environment. Then, once the defensive back started seeing some game action, he felt right at home. Even thought he’d retire there at one point.

That time with the Packers was special to Woodson for a couple reasons, though the arrangement was initially bleak for the Pro Football Hall of Famer who'll be formally inducted into the Hall this weekend in Canton, Ohio. His two sons were born in Green Bay, and it was while playing for the Packers that he enjoyed one of his favorite moments of his career.

It was Thanksgiving Day 2009 and Green Bay traveled to Detroit to play a losing Lions team. Despite Detroit’s shortcomings, Calvin Johnson was a top receiver in the league, so Woodson was tasked with shutting down Megatron. In the Packers’ 34-12 win, he snagged two interceptions — the second of which he returned for a touchdown — and forced and recovered a fumble. Woodson also recorded a sack.

Woodson dominated that day in Detroit. Performances like that are why he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season. And probably why Woodson thought more teams would call him up during his first free agency.

At that point, he’d been to three Pro Bowls and boasted two first-team All-Pro selections. Coming out of college at Michigan, he was a hot commodity — a national champion, the No. 4 draft pick in 1998 and the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Woodson was Mr. Football Ohio in 1994 before heading up to Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines recruited him as a defensive back but eventually played him on both sides of the ball.

Dec 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) reacts after playing his final home game during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Charles Woodson leaves the field after his final NFL game in 2015. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Returning to Oakland with a ring

Woodson retired a Raider after the 2015 season and made a final Pro Bowl that year, having returned to Oakland two years after winning Super Bowl XLV with the Packers. 

Perhaps, if not for the “Tuck Rule,” he would have had a shot at a ring a decade earlier. As the lore goes, Tom Brady’s arm was, according to referees, moving forward at the time of Woodson’s sack on him during a snowy AFC divisional round game at Foxboro Stadium in 2002. So officials ruled the apparent fumble an incomplete pass. It was the call the Patriots needed to continue what would be their first of many Super Bowl runs. Had the fumble and recovery stood, Oakland likely would have won the game.

“We’re all sitting there thinking to ourselves, we just got screwed,” Woodson said in 2019, recalling the controversial play.

But no matter, Woodson eventually got his ring, with the Packers no less. And funny enough — by way of Oakland, then Green Bay, then Oakland again — he’ll meet Megatron once more. Though this time it’ll be in Canton.

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