One of the most enjoyable parts of following the NFL is the debates that are spawned from the action on the field throughout the fall.
To define Charles Woodson’s greatness, however, you have to understand that his career needs no deliberation and his legacy, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is already assured.
The NFL’s oldest defender called it a career on Monday, announcing his plans to reporters in advance of his final home game set for Thursday against San Diego.
“2015 is going to be my last season playing in the NFL,” Woodson said. “Was it a tough decision? Kind of in a way. But a couple weeks ago it hit me that this would be it. It’s important for me to let Raider Nation know now.”
“It will be emotional,” the 39-year-old defensive back continued. “I’ve been emotional all day, so it will be that way Thursday for Raider Nation. It was really fun coming back here and playing, so it will be a pretty emotional day.”
Woodson started his career in Oakland as the No. 4 overall pick in 1998 after winning the Heisman Trophy as a two-way player at the University of Michigan. He then made a productive pit stop in Green Bay for the prime of his career, which included a Super Bowl XLV championship, before returning to the Bay Area as the wily, old veteran safety who continued to prosper well into his late 30s.
And few doubt that Woodson could have continued to contribute next year when he turns 40 in October.
“Honestly, I think physically I could do it —- my body has responded,” he said. “But mentally, it’s not there. It’s not gonna happen.”
That means there are only two games left in an 18-year career that has checked every box possible.
The Heisman, the Super Bowl, along with the Defensive Player of the Year award, a 2000s All-Decade Team nod at cornerback, and a two-time interception leader, Woodson will set his GPS for Canton as the all-time leader in defensive touchdowns with 13, as well as the only player in NFL history with at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks.
He is also one of only two players in history to win the Heisman, Rookie of the Year, either Offensive of Defensive Player of the Year, and a Super Bowl, joining another Raider legend Marcus Allen.
As a three-time first-team All-Pro and an eight-time Pro Bowler, Woodson morphed from lockdown corner early in his career into savvy safety where his play in the slot was unparalleled as both a coverage option and a blitzer off the edge for the Packers.
His first eight seasons were played for the Silver and Black, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons, helping the Raiders to three straight AFC West titles from 2000-02 and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Green Bay was where his ultimate goals were reached, however, and where he began his ascent as possibly the best over-30 defensive back in the history of this game.
In ’09 the versatile Woodson became the oldest defensive back to win the DPOY award when he picked off nine passes. By the following year he was at the top of the mountain, helping the Packers earn the Super Bowl XLV title.
He returned to Oakland in ’13 with the intent on helping the organization rebuild and despite his advancing age, Woodson has managed to start every single game since he’s been back, 46 in all, while taking his gaudy interception total from 55 to 65, sixth on the all-time list.
And Woodson wasn’t the cliched legend, limping to the finish line. He was the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month in October after amassing three interceptions and since turning 39 on Oct. 7, he has picked off three passes, making him one of only three players to ever snare a pick at that age or older.
“Charles Woodson is one of those players that comes along and reminds you why you love the game,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement released by the team. “He is truly a one of a kind player that goes above and beyond his Heisman trophy and future gold jacket. It has been an honor to have worked alongside Charles for so many years and have the confidence to call him what he truly is: the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all-time) He is, without a doubt, the embodiment of what it means to be a Raider.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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