History Will Remember Charles Woodson as a Packer First, a Raider Second

The numbers speak for themselves

 This is Part Two of a two page piece that explains why Charles Woodson will be remembered foremost as a Green Bay Packer. As you know, the previous page focused on Woodson’s statistics with both the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders. However this page focuses on his intangibles and character evolution and why, even for those reasons, he should be remembered as a Packer first.

For Raiders fans that want to say “stats are for losers” and want to believe that he’ll be remembered for his time in Oakland more, we say read on.

Charles Woodson will not only be remembered as a Packer first just because of the unfathomable statistics and accomplishments that he amassed in Green Bay, but because of the player and leader that he became in the state of Wisconsin — not California.

Woodson’s Evolution Into a Leader:

Charles Woodson is a man of many labels: Heisman Trophy Winner, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl Champion, future Hall of Fame inductee, and best of all: Green Bay Packers all-time great.

However by 2005, he was thought of, by many, as selfish and not necessarily a great teammate (fairly or not). Some people have forgot that in his final seasons in Oakland, in his first stint, he would often battle with coaches and it seemed as though he’d never quite reach his incredible potential.

And he wasn’t a truly great player from 2001-2005 with the Raiders. In those seasons, Woodson amassed just seven total interceptions. In his first year in Green Bay in 2006, he snagged eight.

Re-read the above fact and try and make the argument that he’ll be remembered as a Raider.

It’s clear that a change of scenery was what he needed. He wasn’t being pushed to be a leader in Oakland in the mid-2000s. That said, by the time he got back to Oakland in 2013, he definitely wasthe fearless and polished leader that the franchise desperately needed ever since his first go-round with the team. We say that is thanks to his time in Green Bay.

He became the mentor that he needed during the first half of his career.

History suggests that the odds of Woodson ever becoming a Packer in the first place were slim. As all Packer fans know, then General Manager Ted Thompson did not typically spend money on big-name free agents — especially 30 year olds. The fact that Woodson was even on the Packers’ radar speaks volumes about his talent, character, and uniqueness as a player.

But the character that he would develop over the next seven years was something few could have foreseen, if any.

As a lifelong Packer fan I was thrilled and shocked when I heard that Woodson signed with Green Bay, even though many said that the Packers overpaid for him ($52 million). I remembered back to 1993 when, out of nowhere, it was announced that Reggie White had signed with the Pack. I was in utter disbelief that Ron Wolf, the General Manager in those days, was able to sign him.

Reggie’s addition completed the team. And changed the team.

The signing of Woodson brought back those memories and I started to wonder if he could help bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown, like Reggie did. Of course, he did and his place in Packers lore is forever cemented, just like No. 92. On the way to that Super Bowl championship he developed into the Packers’ vocal leader and he gave the famous, “We’ll go see him!” postgame speech referencing President Barack Obama saying he won’t go to the Super Bowl if the Packers make it.

It’s moments like that Packer Nation will never forget.

Like Reggie, Charles completed the team. The entire defense’s mindset changed with him in the lineup.

There is little doubt that Woodson evolved from being a very good player with great potential that lacked a team-first mentality in Oakland into a great player that exceeded all expectations in Green Bay. His performances on the field, his leadership in the locker room, and his focus on team and individual success defined his time in Green Bay — and redefined his career.

His legacy is one of evolution.

How did that transformation take place? Was it the tradition of Packer football? Maybe it was the aura of Lambeau Field and the opportunity to be part of a winning team that could help him earn a trip to the Super Bowl again. All of those things contributed, I think, but the easiest way to explain his transformation is that Charles truly embraced “The Packer Way.”

Not only did he embrace it, he added to it with his own high standards and his willingness, and freakish ability, to change positions. His switch to a hybrid safety-position on defense, from a true cornerback, forced opposing offensive coordinators to game plan specifically against him, so they could always know where he was on the field. That happened regularly and he still performed at an All-Pro level.

He wasn’t afraid to change his game and he inspired, and at times willed, this defense to play its best ball of the decade. He was a great teammate with the Packers and that led to great success. And his leadership grew each year.

Charles Woodson embraced being a leader and knew he had to be the vocal presence the team needed, unlike his first eight years in the league (which were in Oakland). Which is somewhat natural, he needed time to mature into the legend he was meant to be.

It’s a fact that he wouldn’t be known as the leader he is today without his years in Green Bay.

Woodson was never afraid of the moment, not even when he broke his collarbone in the Super Bowl, and that rubbed off on his teammates. He was so impactful that he could lead from the sideline — could he have done that in his first stint in Oakland? I think we all know the answer to that.

It’s been years since Woodson left Green Bay, but he is still having a positive affect on the Packers, the defense, and one of its biggest stars. Yes, I am talking about Clay Matthews!

The similarities between Woodson and Matthews are uncanny. There is no doubt that Woodson’s career with the Packers has mirrored and impacted Matthews in a positive way. Of course, this is how “The Packer Way” exists, thrives, and keeps getting better. Great players and leaders pass on their culture to the younger players and the great expectations and results continue to roll on.

When Matthews broke into the league Woodson was this defense’s leader. Since Woodson has left, Matthews has taken over that role. And he, like Woodson, performed at an All-Pro level at one position and then has switched to a different position to help the team. It’s that rare ability to dominate at more than one position and the selflessness to change positions that makes players like Woodson and Matthews so special. But would Matthews have switched to inside linebacker without Woodson’s example earlier in his career?

As Matthews continues to lead this team into the future, Woodson’s legacy will live on. Who will Matthews then pass on this selflessness to? It’s exciting to wonder.

Yes, Woodson becoming a Packer was a long shot, but what a shot it was. This is one of those situations where both player and team were much better together than they were apart. Would the Packers have been good without Woodson? Yes, but would they have developed in a Super Bowl champion team? I don’t know, perhaps not.

Was Woodson good when he wasn’t a Packer? Yes, he was a Pro Bowl-caliber player and is revered in Oakland. But would he have become an obvious future Hall of Fame inductee without his seasons in Green Bay, otherwise known as his prime? Absolutely not.

He’d still be a respected talent without his Packers’ seasons, but he would not be retiring as one of the most respected all-time greats. That is pretty obvious from the stats and accomplishments that he compiled from 2006-2012. Woodson is going to join other Packer greats in Canton in just five years and that day will be a great day for the Packers and for Packers fans.

It will be a great day for the Raiders and Raiders fans as well, but the majority of the synopsis on his plaque below his bust will highlight his accomplishments from his time in Green Bay.

To Put It Simply…

From 2006 to 2011, Charles Woodson was, arguably, the best defensive back in the NFL, and by far the most versatile. You could also argue that he was playing as well, during that stretch, as any defensive back ever has in NFL history. Never when he was in Oakland could you make the legitimate argument that he was one of the best all-time — the stats don’t lie (If you disagree then you need togo back and read page one of this piece again).

Thus, he was one of the greatest free agency signings in NFL history and is certainly one of the top two in franchise history, along with Reggie White.

Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers used Woodson’s versatility to create a hybrid position of cornerback, safety, and linebacker that got to play ballhawk, rush the passer, and continually surprise the quarterback. Only a player of Woodson’s caliber (both in talent and selflessness) could have created such a unique position — it may be awhile before we see another player be able to create such a position.

To review, Woodson was a really good player with the Raiders from 1998-2001, but by 2005 it seemed like his career was fading toward mediocrity. At age 30, the Packers took a chance and signed him. In Green Bay, he blossomed into the leader he was always meant to be. He truly became a transcendent player and an NFL legend over the next seven years.

Woodson took the leadership that he developed in Green Bay to a young, but rising, Raiders team, where he would end his career. That team will only get better over the next few of seasons. He won’t bet there, but his impact definitely will be — just as it still is in Green Bay.

Yes, he’s a Raider for life… if you ask anyone from Oakland. However to the rest of the world, it’s not that black and white. Instead, NFL history will remember the once-in-a-lifetime player that Charles Woodson became in Green Bay. When his story is told and retold years from now, it will be, primarily, about his years with the Packers. Green Bay is his true home. His statistics and evolution while wearing the “G” were too significant to ignore.

On behalf of Packer Nation, thank you Charles.

We’ll see you in Canton in a few years, but I have a feeling you’ll be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame before that. What a homecoming it will be.

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