Veteran defensive back Charles Woodson decided to return to the city where his career began, signing a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders this week.
I didn’t think he’d do it. I really didn’t.
When the Green Bay Packers let him go, I thought Charles Woodson would come to his senses and retire.
After all, he’d had a good run.
He won an NCAA National Championship with Michigan in 1997. He was the only defensive player in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy.
He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998. He earned NFC Defensive Player of the Year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009. He was voted to the Pro Bowl eight times and named All-Pro seven times. He was selected to the NFL’s All-2000s team. He won a Super Bowl in 2010.
He’s tied for 19th all-time with 55 interceptions, 18th all-time for interception return yards with 896, and second all one for the most interceptions returned for touchdowns with 11.
In his prime, there was really no one like him. He was one of the more versatile defensive backs in recent memory. He wasn’t just good in coverage or a ball-hawking cornerback. He also roamed the middle of the field like an extra linebacker and even lined up on the line of scrimmage. He lasted long enough to be relegated from cornerback to safety.
What more did he have to prove?
Images of Charles Woodson returning interceptions for touchdowns became a fixture of Packers Nation lore.
Until the last moment, I hoped he would take the hint. I hoped he’d do some serious soul searching, realize the gig was up, and decide to retire gracefully. I wanted him to depart with the blessing and gratitude of his adoring fans. I thought he might even become only the second player in Packers history to be given a public retirement ceremony.
Instead, he signed with the Oakland Raiders of all teams.
Like so many aging players before him, he couldn’t resist the allure of giving it one last shot. He decided to rage against the dying of the light. Instead of going out in glory, he decided to abandon the Green and Gold for the Silver and Black. Or more precisely, for the silver and gold.
For a player who claims to be so driven by a hunger for championships, this move isn’t just puzzling — it’s inexplicable. The Raiders aren’t just a dead end — they’re a black hole. They haven’t won more than eight games since 2002.
I understand nostalgia is a powerful force, and maybe that’s what this is. Maybe Woodson just wants to go home, to finish his career where it all started.
Still, why should he feel more affection for Oakland than Green Bay? Oakland kicked him to the curb when things didn’t work out as they’d hoped.
It was Green Bay that gave him a second chance. It was in Green Bay that he resurrected his career. It was in Green Bay that he blossomed as a player and became one of the most statistically prolific cornerbacks in the league. It was in Green Bay that he finally earned his long-coveted ring, and it’s in Green Bay — certainly not in Oakland — that he would have a decent chance of winning another.
The only thing Oakland offers him that Green Bay doesn’t is a paycheck.
So is that what this is all about?
Is this about a player so passionate for the game he simply can’t bear to give it up? Or is this just an attempt by Woodson to milk the cash cow one last time before she gives up the ghost?
If that’s all it is, I can’t say I fault him. As far as I am concerned, Charles Woodson is a gun for hire, and he’s free to ply his trade wherever he wants. Even so, I just can’t help thinking this isn’t the storybook ending he might have hoped for. It feels like a tawdry way to close out what has otherwise been a stellar career.
More than anything, I want to see Woodson go out with dignity. He’s already lost a step or two. I want to see him walk away before he’s nothing more than a shell of his former self. I wish him nothing but the best.
But Oakland? Why?