BY CHELSEA PARKER
Age is just a number.
Well, maybe not in the National Football League - but, don't tell Charles Woodson that.
The average career of a NFL player is 3.5 seasons; Woodson is currently playing his 17th.
Only three players from the 1998 NFL Draft are still active in the National Football League; Woodson, and quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Matt Hasselbeck. Selected in the first round, fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders, Charles Woodson has experienced a successful career and is revered as one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game. At 38 years old, he's still making Hall of Fame worthy plays.
"I'm blessed. I think it says that you're good at what you do, because if I wasn't, if Peyton wasn't, if we weren't good at what we were doing, we wouldn't be here," Woodson said. "If you don't go out there and make plays or help your team get better, you don't last long in the League. They'll shuffle you out very quickly. So, I think we're blessed. Man, 17 years, for us to still be doing it, him to be doing what he's doing, breaking records, and myself being here and still being in a starting role and still contributing and playing at a high level, definitely blessed to still be playing."
As one of the oldest players in the League, Woodson plays with the fiery passion of a rookie and with the instinct and discipline of a well-respected veteran. This season, Woodson has already recorded two interceptions, one coming against the Arizona Cardinals when he picked off Carson Palmer for a 30 yard return, marking the first time in the 2014 season a player had intercepted a Palmer pass.
That was only one of many impressive moments in his career. When asked which one was the most memorable, it didn't take Woodson long to decide.
"One moment?" He asked with a smile. "I mean, I would have to say the moment after we beat Chicago when I was in Green Bay. It was the Championship Week, so that game, we win that game we go on to the Super Bowl. I think after that game I gave a speech in which I said that if President Obama wasn't going to come watch us in the Super Bowl, then we would go see him. I think that moment was widely publicized and then we actually went on to win the Super Bowl, so we got a chance to go to the White House. That's one of my favorite moments."
Charles Woodson has met the President of the United States, won a Super Bowl, is the active leader in interceptions, is one of only four players since 1995 to win both the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year awards in their career, and has intercepted at least one pass in each of his first 17 NFL seasons, a feat in which only one other player has accomplished. That's just scratching the surface.
With that many accomplishments, one has to wonder if Woodson keeps up with all of them.
"Of course," Woodson laughs. "Why not?"
Of his many achievements, Woodson takes the most pride in the defensive plays that culminate in points for the team.
"Probably interceptions for touchdowns," Woodson said. "Just because those are points. You go out there to get the ball back for your offense for the most part, but when you can catch it and then actually score with it, then that's an added bonus."
Currently tied for first all-time in defensive touchdowns, Woodson is looking to take sole possession of that title.
Though it didn't come in the form of a defensive touchdown, Woodson did make history in front of Raider Nation on Thursday Night Football when he became the first player in NFL history to record at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks when he took down Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith. His outstanding defensive effort on primetime led to him being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Woodson spent his first eight seasons with the Raiders and then continued his successful career as a Green Bay Packer for seven years before returning to the Silver and Black. Woodson never imagined that he would return to play for the Raiders, but was excited to see his career come full circle and finish what he started. "It meant a lot," Woodson said. "All of a sudden the Raiders came into play and I started thinking, 'Wow, how crazy would that be to come back and play for the Raiders?' We got to the Super Bowl in my first time around, but we didn't win it. So then I thought to myself, man it would be great to come back here and possibly, or hopefully get there again and win it for these fans. That's the one thing that you're disappointed about in playing for a team is if you don't get to the Super Bowl and win it. So, it would be great to do it here."
So, what exactly is Charles Woodson's key to longevity in the NFL?
"I think that the keys are – well, there are a couple of keys," Woodson said. "One, you've got to stay healthy, which is nothing you can really control, but that's probably the main thing. I think you have to care about the game, care about your craft. You've got to work at it, meaning keeping yourself in the shape necessary to play longer than most. You've got to want to. You've got to want to play for a long period of time. You've got to have a little bit of luck. This is a tough game to play beyond, the average is three and a half years, so to play anything above that is a plus. But to get to 10, or to get to 15, there's got to be a little something in there that gets you through that you can't account for."
As a respected veteran, many rookies look up to Woodson and want to learn from his past experiences. Though he maintains a quick pace and high intensity on the field, off the field, Woodson advises the newcomers to slow down and make the most of their experience.
"I would probably say to them, slow down a little bit. Take this thing serious," he said. "Because you never know. There's no guarantee whatever amount of years, so make sure that you don't take anything for granted and care about what you're doing."
After spending 17 years in the National Football League, the future Hall of Famer says he wouldn't change a thing.
"I think it's hard to say that I would really change anything, being that I've been doing it for so long. I guess I've been doing something right," he laughs. "I mean, would I do anything differently? Not really. I think I'm actually pretty happy the way things have turned out, and I still have the opportunity to play the game that I love, and so, just keep working at it. That's all you can ask for."