During Week 17 in Kansas City, Charles Woodson suits up for the final time of his memorable career.
I remember the 1998 draft well. My best friend and a person I thought of as a little brother (Mo Collins - RIP) was taken by the Raiders with 23rd pick. But our first pick (No. 4 overall) was used on Charles Woodson. He came in to the league with a ton of accomplishments and accolades to his name -- a Heisman Trophy and a national title, among others. From the start you could see what all the hype and excitement was about -- a very talented player joined the team and I knew our defense would definitely get better because of it.
During my time in the NFL I had the privilege of playing with some great defensive backs…guys like Deion Sanders, Albert Lewis, and Terry McDaniel. When the Raiders drafted Charles and he came to the first camp I knew he was special. He came out wearing No. 24, which was no subtle move considering Willie Brown was coaching the DBs at the time. I once overheard Willie give a clear message:
"Remember whose number you're wearing…you'd better get the job done."
Of course, Charles did just that. As an offensive player, I didn't pay much attention to what was going on over on the other side of the ball, but I did see Charles doing it all on the field. Returning punts, making tackles, and taking on some of the best receivers the opponents had, he was capable of doing everything. He definitely deserved being a top draft choice.
I always thought Charles was a good teammate but there were some times I really didn't like his behavior off of the field – he could be very reckless and careless at times when he came into the league. But, like many players, he has grown so much throughout his career. For Charles, I think a change of scenery helped him – even for a guy that epitomizes the Silver and Black. I thought it was a shame for the Raiders to lose him at the same time because he was still a good player but it seemed the organization had made the decision to let him go. And really, that change was great for him -- he went to Green Bay, played well, and even won a Super Bowl.
When he returned to play for the Raiders in 2013, I was surprised but very pleased by how much Charles had matured. I had come back to the team as a radio analyst as well that year and I felt like a proud big brother coming back to see my old teammate still playing. I remember sitting on the bus in Denver and talking to Charles about coming back to Oakland -- I was really curious as to why he came back. What was left to prove? To me he was already a future Hall of Famer in 2013. He had won a Super Bowl and the Raiders didn't appear to be challenging for a championship anytime soon, so why?
"I still have some left in the tank and I know I can still do it."
I heard what he said but it really didn't sink in until now – it's three years later but I get it. He got to lift the Lombardi trophy in his arms but he returned home to help transform a locker room that seemed it needed some serious help in maturing – a process that Charles himself had gone through. He also made several hundred more tackles, forced a large number of turnovers, and made countless plays. He has proven that he's still one of the game's greatest players right now while also laying the foundation for the future.
He has passed the torch to players like Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Gabe Jackson -- the team should be in good hands because of the lessons he has shared. He showed them how to play with passion. He showed them how to be professional. But most of all he showed them how to play for Raider Nation…with pride.
To me he will go down as one of the best, toughest guys I watched play the game. It was a pleasure to have him as a teammate. I enjoyed watching him make plays for teams I played on as well as ones I covered. Raiders fans and I will always remember the sacrifice he paid with his body in 2015. We watched him grimace after every tackle he made. As a commentator I shook my head over and over again asking the question to myself, "what are you doing?" But he himself has said, "that's the only way I know how to do it," and he's been a great example for others.
A detailed look into the final home game of Charles Woodson's exceptional career.
Of course, I think he has done all he could as a player, as a leader and certainly as a Raider. His final home game on Christmas Eve was incredibly special. He gave Raider Nation something to cheer for and celebrate even when the playoffs were no longer an option, and the love he received from the fans in return shows exactly why his return to Oakland was the right move. It was the perfect swan song.
Now it's time for Charles to hang up his helmet. Who knows what the future holds for him. Maybe he'll just make wine or spend time with his beautiful family. Maybe he will join me in the booth commentating on games. Fans will come up to him and say "I used to watch you when I was a kid," and he'll have to remember all of the good times on the field that he's had.
I'm sure whatever the next step is for him will be a good one, but for now we can all just enjoy the storybook ending to a Hall of Fame career. Charles Woodson's career has been an incredible one, and I was excited to see him suit up for the Silver and Black one last time.