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Woodson was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth pick in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft. In his first season with Oakland, Woodson was selected as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro recognition three consecutive times (1999–2001). In a memorable 2002 AFC playoff match against the New England Patriots, Woodson seemed to have clinched the game by laying a hit on quarterback Tom Brady and forcing a fumble, but the ruling was controversially overturned. Woodson later battled several nagging injuries in consecutive seasons in Oakland, leading to his departure and becoming a free agent after the 2005 NFL season.2
On April 26, 2006, Woodson signed a seven-year, $52 million contract with the Green Bay Packers. In his first season in Green Bay, Woodson was the team's punt returner and led the National Football Conference with eight interceptions, surpassing his previous career high of five, in his rookie year.3 In his second season in Green Bay, the injury problems returned and Woodson was forced to sit out two games. He was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2009 NFL season.4 Woodson is one of the few players in NFL history to ever play in a Pro Bowl in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s). He signed with the Oakland Raiders on May 21, 2013.
Woodson was born in Fremont, Ohio. As a senior at Ross High School Woodson was named Ohio's "Mr. Football." His nickname throughout grade school was "Poochie". He finished his high school career with the school's records for rushing yards (3,861) and scoring (466 points). In his senior season he was a USA Today All-America selection and Parade High School All-American and recorded 2,028 yards and 230 points. In addition to playing football, Woodson played basketball and ran track.25
Woodson attended the University of Michigan, where he played for coach Lloyd Carr's Michigan Wolverines football team from 1995 to 1997. He became the starter after the second game of his freshman season and played in 34 straight games. In addition to playing cornerback, he returned punts and occasionally played as a wide receiver.
In 1995, Woodson was selected as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He was named to the All-Big Ten First Team by conference coaches, and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. He led the team with five interceptions and eight takeaways.6
In 1996, Woodson set a Wolverine record for pass breakups with 15. For his efforts, he was named the Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year and an AP First Team All-American. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and named to All-Big Ten First Team by conference coaches and the media.6
In his junior season in 1997, Woodson became the third Michigan player to win the Heisman Trophy, joining Tom Harmon (1940) and Desmond Howard (1991). Woodson received 282 more voting points than runner-up Peyton Manning.1 He was the first and is still the only primarily defensive player to win the prestigious award.2 Woodson is the last player to win the Heisman Trophy that is not a running back or quarterback. Woodson led the Michigan Wolverines to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship in the same year. He won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the best defensive college player.2 He was named to the All-Big Ten First-Team for the third year and was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American. It was his second year winning the Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year award and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson won the Jim Thorpe Award, an award which he was nominated for the previous year.6
Throughout college, Woodson was known for big plays in big moments of a game. As a freshman he had two interceptions in a victory against the #2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.7 During his Heisman-winning junior year, he made an acrobatic one-handed sideline interception against the Michigan State Spartans. Woodson had two interceptions in the game.8 In a game against Ohio State, he returned a punt for a touchdown, made an interception in the end-zone, and had a 37-yard reception that led to Michigan's only offensive touchdown of the game. The win lifted Michigan to the Rose Bowl.9 Michigan played the Washington State Cougars in the Rose Bowl. Woodson recorded another end-zone interception in the game, helping Michigan defeat the Cougars and win a share of the 1997 national championship. In 2007, Woodson was ranked #11 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.
Woodson finished his college career with 18 interceptions and 30 passes defended.2
Oakland Raiders (1998-2005)
Woodson declared his eligibility for the NFL Draft following his junior season at Michigan and was selected 4th overall in the 1st round of the 1998 Draft by the Oakland Raiders. After Woodson's first season in the NFL he was named The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. He started all sixteen games, becoming the first rookie Raider since 1971 to do so. Woodson had 64 tackles that season, leading all defensive backs in the NFL. He was also third in the league in interceptions (with five), returned one interception for a touchdown and produced one forced fumble.10 Woodson was named to his first Pro Bowl. In his second season in 1999, Woodson was selected to his second Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro by the Associated Press.2
In the 2000 NFL season, Woodson started all sixteen games of the season but suffered a turf toe injury, which prevented him from practicing.11 He finished the year with a career high 79 tackles, intercepted four passes, forced three fumbles and recovered one fumble.10 He was named to the All-Pro team by Sports Illustrated, and second-team honors from the Associated Press.2 In his fourth year in the NFL, Woodson started sixteen games. This was the fourth consecutive year Woodson played in every game of the season. Woodson finished with two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one blocked field goal.10 Woodson returned punts for the first time in the NFL, returning four punts for 47 yards. He was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. He made All-Pro teams of The Sporting News and College and Pro Football Newsweekly and the All-AFC squad of Football News.2
In 2002, Woodson suffered his first major injury since his freshman year at Michigan, suffering from a shoulder injury which caused him to be inactive for eight games. The shoulder injury came in the first half of the second game of the season. Despite the injury Woodson played the remainder of the game and was able to force a fumble.11 After recovering from his shoulder injury, Woodson missed the last three games of the regular season, suffering from a cracked fibula bone in his right leg.12 Woodson started every Raider game in the 2003 NFL Playoffs, finishing with a start in Super Bowl XXXVII. In the Super Bowl, Woodson showed signs of his injury, but still recorded an interception in a losing effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.13
After losing the Super Bowl in the year prior, the Raiders finished the 2003 NFL season with a record of 4-12. Woodson became unhappy with new head coach Bill Callahan, and criticized him during the season.14 Woodson remained healthy for the entire season, starting in his first fifteen games. His contract was set to expire after the season. Woodson reached an agreement with Oakland and was labeled as a franchise player. The franchise tag set Woodson's contract with a minimum of the average salary for the top five cornerbacks in the NFL. Although being labeled as a franchise player, Woodson's contract was only for one year.15 In the 2004 NFL season Woodson played the first 13 games of the season before suffering a leg injury which put him inactive in the last three weeks. After the season Woodson again agreed to a one year franchise tag deal.2 In the 2005 NFL season, he started the first six games but broke his leg in the sixth week, which sidelined him for the rest of the year.16
Green Bay Packers (2006-2012)
On April 26, 2006, Woodson and the Green Bay Packers reached a 7-year contract agreement that could be worth as much as $52.7 million with bonuses and incentives. He earned $10.5 million in the first year of the deal and $18 million over the first three years. He will receive a $3 million bonus if he is selected to the Pro Bowl in two of the first three years of the contract.17 Woodson has stated that at the time of the contract he "did not want to come to Green Bay" due to a perception that the city is less than cosmopolitan, but was forced to do so because the Packers were the only team to offer him a contract. The cornerback has since lauded the Packers organization, Mike McCarthy, and the people of the State of Wisconsin for having faith in him, and has declared that "it was truly a blessing coming to Green Bay." 18
Free of any major injuries during the 2006 season, Woodson (tied with Walt Harris formerly of the San Francisco 49ers) led the National Football Conference with eight interceptions. At the time, that was the most interceptions Woodson had recorded in a single season (until he had 9 in 2009). Overall, he was tied for third in that statistic in the entire NFL. He was used as his team's starting punt returner for the first time in his NFL career, returning 41 punts for 363 yards.
On October 14, 2007 Woodson picked up a Santana Moss fumble and returned it 57 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in a 17-14 victory over the Washington Redskins.19 He recorded an interception in the game, his first of the season. Woodson was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his performance versus the Redskins, which was the first time he had received that award.20 On November 4, 2007 Woodson had a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown with 59 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter to seal a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.21
On September 15, 2008 Woodson recorded two interceptions in a 48-25 victory over the Detroit Lions. He returned the second interception 41 yards for a touchdown.22
Woodson was named NFL Defensive Player of the Month for September in both 2008 and 2009. 23
On December 16, 2008, Woodson was named to his fifth Pro Bowl, his first with the Packers. Woodson had solid seasons in '06 and '07 as he had 8 interceptions and 1 TD in 2006, and 4 interceptions and 2 TD's in 2007.
On November 15, 2009, Woodson recorded nine tackles (two for loss), a sack, two forced fumbles and an interception in a 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Woodson is the first player in NFL history to have a sack, two forced fumbles, and an interception in a game. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
On November 26, 2009, Woodson had an impressive Thanksgiving game at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions. He recorded 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and recovery (same play), 4 passes defended and 2 interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He covered star receiver Calvin Johnson and limited him to 2 catches for 10 yards. Although one of these was a touchdown, Green Bay won the game 34-12. Woodson was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for this performance and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for the month of November.
In January 2010, Woodson was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for December 2009. He is the only defensive player to ever receive this award 3 times in the same season, and joins Barry Sanders and Mike Vanderjagt as the only NFL players to receive a Player of the Month award 3 times in a single season. For his effort during the 2009 season Woodson was selected as the AP Defensive Player of the Year.24
Charles Woodson in 2011.
He had more interceptions in his first four years with the Packers (28) than he did in his previous eight with the Raiders (17). He also has more touchdowns (8 vs 2) and sacks (6 vs 5.5) with the Packers than during his time in Oakland. Woodson's stats have improved in every defensive category since joining the Packers.
Woodson also holds the Packers' franchise record for most defensive touchdowns (8 total, 7 interception returns and 1 fumble return).
During the 2010 season, Woodson recorded two interceptions and five forced fumbles for the Packers. He was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl as a starting cornerback. It was his 7th selection. Woodson was named co-captain along with teammate AJ Hawk for the Green Bay Packers defensive unit through the post-season. He provided a huge performance, limiting Pro-Bowler Desean Jackson to just two catches (for 47 yards), and recorded 5 tackles in the Packers win over the Philadelphia Eagles on January 9, 2011. Woodson also played an important role in Dom Capers' defense in playoff victories against the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears and started against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 Super Bowl. With 1:54 before halftime of the Super Bowl, Woodson broke his collar bone while diving to successfully defend a pass intended for Mike Wallace. An emotional Woodson gave a speech to his teammates during halftime. Watching from the sidelines in the second half, Woodson cheered his team on to a 31-25 victory, his first championship title. Despite his Super Bowl injury, Woodson finished the game with three total tackles, of which two were solo.
Barack Obama said if the Bears won the NFC Championship, that he would see them play in Super Bowl XLV, but he would not see Green Bay. Woodson sent Obama a jersey saying, "See you at the White House!" and had a pep talk in the locker room. He told the team if the President did not want to see the Packers play in the Super Bowl then they would go to the White House. The Packers won the Super Bowl. However they could not visit the White House until August because of the terms in the NFL Lockout. When they visited the White House, Obama made reference to Woodson's pep rally and autographed jersey. Woodson responded by handing Barack Obama a certificate stating that Obama is a minority owner of the Green Bay Packers. Obama also said, "I have learned something that many quarterbacks have learned. Don't mess with Charles Woodson."
On September 9, 2010, despite having three years left on his current contract, a thirty-three year-old Woodson was offered and signed a two-year extension with the Packers, adding five years and $55 million to his existing pact.25
Woodson started 2012 in a different role for the Packers, hoping to fill the void left by free safety Nick Collins, who had been out of football for almost a year with a neck injury. He described it simply as "just playing football". Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers' plan appeared to be to line Woodson up at the safety position, while also situationally deploying him as the nickel-back. This saw Woodson in a Polamalu-like position of the Pittsburgh Steelers, lining up on either side ready to rush or drop back in coverage.
Against the 49ers in week 1, the 35-year old Woodson recorded 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in a losing effort.
Against Chicago Bears in week 2, he recorded his 55th interception of his career, and first as a strong safety. The pass was intended for Earl Bennett.
Woodson suffered a broken collarbone during the Packers' victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday October 21, and was out for six games.29
Woodson sat out several weeks with a broken collarbone but made it back for the first playoff game against the Vikings. He helped the Packers defeat the Vikings but couldn't do enough to help the Packers beat the 49ers the following week. After his return from a broken collarbone he recorded zero INT's and zero forced turnovers.
On February 15, 2013, the Packers released Woodson on account of declining skill and Woodson's older age.30
Second stint with the Oakland Raiders (2013-present)
On May 21, 2013, Woodson signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.31Woodson return to his first game back in Oakland against the Jacksonville Jaguars. On October 6th, Woodson tied the NFL record (with Darren Sharper and former teammate Rod Woodson) for most defensive touchdowns with 12.32
Woodson is an oenophile who developed his interest in wine while playing football for the first time in Oakland, near the Napa Valley. He partnered with former Robert Mondavi winemaker Rick Ruiz to develop a signature wine label, "Twentyfour by Charles Woodson". The company is based in Napa, California, and is a small boutique winery, producing fewer than one thousand cases per year of its two varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Although the wine bears his name and signature, Woodson was warned by the NFL not to be seen endorsing the wine himself because of the league's alcohol policy.33
On November 26, 2009, Woodson contributed $2 million to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital for pediatric research.34 Woodson has his own charitable foundation to support the fight against breast cancer known as "Charles Woodson Foundation".35
In October 2012, Woodson donated $100,000 to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.
During the Green Bay Packers' 2010 Super Bowl season, Woodson publicly called out President Barack Obama on the latter's support for longtime Packers' rivals, the Chicago Bears, and in a post-game locker room interview, said, "The President don’t want to come watch us win the Super Bowl? Guess what? We’ll go see him" (Woodson also said he had voted for Obama in 2008).36
Then, during the 2012 US Presidential election campaign, Woodson publicly endorsed Obama at a Green Bay political rally in late October, saying, "I believe in what he's trying to do."37