Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson had a career for the ages. Here, we’ll break down every memorable moment from one of the best cornerbacks to grace the gridiron.
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Committing to Michigan
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Charles Woodson had a standout athletic career at Ross High School in Ohio. When it was time to decide where he wanted to play college football, Woodson committed to the University of Michigan under head coach Lloyd Carr.
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Woodson had a remarkable start to his college career. As a true freshman, he broke out for five interceptions and became a mainstay on the Wolverines’ defense. He won Big Ten Freshman of the Year for his contributions.
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Taking on a bigger role
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Woodson was asked to take snaps at wide receiver at the start of his sophomore season. He took on the new role with a winner’s mindset and showed flashes at the position. He even became a solid threat as a punt returner. But Woodson’s bread and butter was defense. He continued playing lights-out at cornerback for the Wolverines. Woodson was willing to do whatever it took to help his team win.
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Historic junior year leads to Heisman Trophy
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Woodson made his mark his senior year. The Ohio native logged 43 tackles and seven interceptions while also playing wide receiver and punt returner. He was the spark for a team that went undefeated and won the 1997 Rose Bowl against Washington State.
Woodson won the Heisman Trophy over Peyton Manning, becoming the first defensive player to win the award. The Wolverines were a powerhouse during Woodson’s college days at Ann Arbor. At the top of college football, Woodson registered for the NFL Draft.
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Winning Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Oakland Raiders
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Woodson, one of the most awarded defensive players in college football history, was drafted fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders. He made an immediate contribution after being thrust into the starting lineup from day one. He notched 64 tackles and five interceptions, including a pick-six against the Arizona Cardinals. The Michigan alum ran away with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
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The Tuck Rule Game
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In 2001, the Raiders went 10-6 and were poised to go far in the playoffs. Against the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round, Woodson made a play when the Raiders needed it most. He strip-sacked former Michigan teammate Tom Brady in the late stages of the game. The refs reviewed the turnover and ruled it an incomplete pass instead of a strip sack to the dismay of Oakland Raiders fans everywhere. The game would become known as the Tuck Rule Game. The controversial call changed the course of NFL history by kickstarting the Brady-Belichick dynasty. Woodson and Brady have playfully joked about it and sat down to debate whether it was the right call.
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The Raiders are going to the Super Bowl
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The Raiders rebound from the heartbreaking loss with an 11-5 record. Woodson steamrolled his way to 37 tackles, one interception, and four passes defensed as the Raiders’ leader on defense in just his third season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew out the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21.
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Struggles in Oakland
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The Raiders and Woodson had tough years ahead following their Super Bowl loss. The Raiders went 13-35 over the next three years. Woodson played under the franchise tag for multiple years, even though he was viewed as a cornerstone of the franchise. As contract disputes wore on, Woodson saw the storm clouds overhead and set sail for a better opportunity.
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Woodson wanted to play for a winner. He found what he was looking for in the Green Bay Packers, who were in dire need of a shutdown defensive back. Although seen as an undesirable location, he fell in love with the organization and the people of Green Bay. The defensive dynamo made four Pro Bowls with the Packers.
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Winning Defensive Player of the Year
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In 2009, Woodson blew up for 74 tackles, 18 passes defensed, and a league-leading nine interceptions to cap off his best season in the pros. The best safety in the league by a wide margin, Woodson won Defensive Player of the Year on one of the top-ranked defenses in football. The Packers suffered a first-round exit in the playoffs. Woodson’s first Super Bowl remained elusive.
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Woodson gets his ring
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Woodson followed up his career year with 92 tackles, two interceptions, and 13 passes defensed. The Packers had a legendary playoff run as they won Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The contest featured two storied franchises.
The missing piece to Woodson’s resume was now on his ring finger. Fighting for it for 12 years made the victory even sweeter.
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The Packers weren’t done yet, imposing their will on opponents en route to a 15-1 record. They were the best team in the 2011 season. Unfortunately, they were slayed by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
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Reuniting with the Silver and Black
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Woodson was the leader of some scary defenses in Green Bay. He gave some of his best years to the Packers. As the Super Bowl celebrations faded into memory, Woodson’s former team was at the back of his mind. He wanted to reunite with the Raiders. So, in 2013, he signed with them.
They weren’t the same team that drafted him all those years ago. They were in a lengthy rebuild. Woodson was a veteran presence on a young Raiders squad, often dropping knowledge to his teammates and easing into a player-coach role. Woodson played well enough in his final act to receive a Pro Bowl nod in 2015.
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Retiring from the game
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Woodson retired after the 2015 season. One of the finest shutdown corners of his generation, he left the game with nothing left to prove. He’s adjusted well to retired life as a football analyst with FOX Sports.
Fun fact: Woodson is a member of the 20-20 Club. The only way to gain admittance to the prestigious club is by finishing your career with more than 20 interceptions and 20 sacks.
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Woodson goes to Canton
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Woodson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021. When you finish your career with 1,220 tackles, 183 passes defended, 65 interceptions (11 of which were pick-sixes), and 20 sacks, it’s easy to see why. He was voted in just one year into his eligibility.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He’s a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn’t watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.