ALAMEDA – Raiders safety Charles Woodson woke up on an early Sunday morning in November in Michigan, the state where he went to college and rose to national prominence, and knew the end was near.
It wasn’t a sad moment in the slightest. It wasn’t a broken body tapping out, or a bruised ego conceding Woodson wasn't good enough
To the contrary. It was a man at peace admitting it’s time to move on.
“I knew the morning of the Detroit Lions game. For whatever reason, I was just certain,” Woodson said. “It was weird, but I knew this was going to be it.”
This season marks the end of an illustrious career. Woodson won a Heisman Trophy and a NCAA title at the University of Michigan. He won a Super Bowl and the NFL’s defensive player of the year award in 2009. He ranks fifth all-time with 65 interceptions, first with 13 defensive touchdowns and is the first player with at least 60 interceptions and 20 sacks.
In short, Woodson is one of the best defensive backs to ever play football.
"It’s been an incredible career," Woodson said. "It goes beyond words. I never intended on playing as long as I have, but that’s the way it happened."
Woodson planned to tell the world after the season, but moved the announcement to Monday. Woodson informed owner Mark Davis, Raiders brass and his teammates of his decision to retire on, shortly before informing the public. That sets up one final goodbye on Thursday night against the Chargers.
“It was important for me to let Raider Nation know now,” Woodson said. “I felt that it would only be right that Raiders fans and my fans know that Thursday night will be the last time I run out there at home.”
Thursday will be one emotional night. It will be Woodson’s last night playing in Oakland. It could be the last night the Raiders play in Oakland. Ever.
“I’ve been emotional all day, really, so it will be that way Thursday for myself, for my family, friends, for Raider Nation,” Woodson said. “I feel like coming back here and playing for the second time, we were able to rekindle something that we had years ago, so it was really fun, man, coming back here and playing.”
Few teams believed Woodson could still play when the Raiders signed him in 2013. The Green Bay Packers cut him after seven seasons. The Denver Broncos offered a contract without guaranteed money. Only the Raiders threw real cash at Woodson, who was coaxed back to the team that drafted him by that fact and an army of fans waiting for him outside the practice facility.
Woodson was better than many expected, playing at a high level for two years when the team was awful. The 39-year old has five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a force fumble in his final season, and should be named to his ninth Pro Bowl on Tuesday evening.
“I feel very good about the way I performed, not only this year, but my whole career,” Woodson said. “It’s the only way you’re able to play as long as I have, is to go out there and perform. To be performing at the level that I have this year, it just makes it all that much better.”
His performance, and the pleas of those around Woodson, couldn’t bring him back for another year. It wasn’t the wear of dealing with a dislocated shoulder all season that pushed him towards retirement.
“I think physically I could do it,” Woodson said. “My body has responded, but mentally it’s not there, not going to happen.”
Woodson has other interests and will transition seamlessly into post-NFL life. He operates a successful winery in the Napa Valley, has a wife and two young sons and seems destined for a second career as a TV football analyst.
“I know there will be a lot of opportunities to explore going forward,” said Woodson, who has already signed with a TV agent. “Right now, it’ll be about the family and then we’ll go from there.”
No matter what happens next, his 18-year NFL career will go down as one of the best ever. He’ll be part of the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, and will be remember as one of the greatest players of a storied Raiders franchise.
“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. “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. He is, without a doubt, the embodiment of what it means to be a Raider.”