KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson’s accomplished 18-year NFL career comes full circle Sunday.
Woodson, who announced on Dec. 21 he will retire at the end of the season, plays his final game on the same field where arguably a Pro Football Hall of Fame career began on Sept. 6, 1998 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I remember that one, probably more than any other game because being that it was the first game and it wasn’t a good game,” Woodson told Raiders beat writers Thursday. “Initially, it wasn’t a good game, but yeah, I just remember going to that stadium and how live that stadium was, and it was a good introduction into the NFL.”
Expect the emotions to run high as he makes a final visit as a player.
“I’m going to try and keep myself together so I can get through the game,” Woodson told Sirius XM NFL Radio during a guest appearance Tuesday. “It’s going to be a funny feeling knowing that after this game I’m not going to be preparing for the next season to play in the NFL.”
What Woodson does next with life after football remains unknown, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid is happy Woodson will no longer be on the field terrorizing the opposing offense.
“I’m glad he’s picking a different profession,” Reid joked before turning serious. “He’s a heck of a player, he still can play, I mean, he said that. There’s just a point you get to, he feels that. More power to him for being able to do that, going out as a Pro Bowl-caliber player.”
Woodson’s journey in the NFL began as a first-round pick (fourth overall) out of Michigan, where he won the Heisman Trophy, of the Raiders in the 1998 draft.
He spent the first seven seasons of his career in Oakland (1998-05), and then played for the Green Bay Packers (2006-12).
Before becoming the head coach in Kansas City, Reid faced Woodson five times during that span while with the Philadelphia Eagle.
Reid’s Eagles played Woodson and the Raiders in 2001 and 2005, and then squared off three times – 2007 and twice in 2010, including the playoffs – when Woodson was with the Green Bay Packers.
Woodson moved from cornerback to safety in 2012, and continued to play at a high level despite the position change.
“He’s done it at two different positions, probably could’ve done it at wide receiver if he chose to do that,” Reid said. “This guy’s a phenomenal athlete, good person, good leader, good for the National Football League.”
Woodson rejoined the Raiders in 2013 and his career is rife with accomplishments, culminating in being honored as a three-time first-team All-Pro selection, voted to nine Pro Bowls, including the one yet to be played in 2016, and being a member of the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl-winning team.
According to ProFootballReference.com, Woodson has appeared in 253 regular-season games with 250 starts, totaling 977 tackles, 20 sacks, 65 interceptions, 13 touchdowns, 33 forced fumbles and 155 passes defensed.
A versatile player, Woodson has 90 punt returns for 736 yards and five kickoff returns for 47 yards. He also has two receptions for 27 yards on his career.
“He’s definitely one of the greats, first-ballot Hall of Famer, great guy on and off the field,” said Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch, who was Woodson’s teammate in Oakland from 2013-14. “There aren’t enough good words to say about him and it was a pleasure to play alongside him.”
Branch isn’t the only Chiefs player to hold Woodson in high regard.
Wide receiver Jason Avant’s first career touchdown came against Woodson at Lambeau Field in 2007.
Avant remembers a sleepless night before that game because he knew he was set to face not just one of the NFL’s top defenders, but a fellow Michigan Wolverine and one of the school’s all-time greats.
“I don’t know if there’s a more respected player in this league than Charles Woodson,” Avant said. “He played the game the right way, he always has.
“Congrats to him. It’s just a proud moment for me to know that a guy that attended the same school, the University of Michigan, has played as long as he has and represented himself in such a way that he can go back anywhere – whether it’s Oakland, Green Bay, Michigan – everybody will accept him back because he’s that type of player.”
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin agreed with Avant, adding offensive players always had to be aware of where Woodson was on the field.
While Maclin admits it will be a sad occasion to see Woodson retire, the Chiefs wideout offered perspective on Woodson’s decision to hang up the cleats.
“I think it’s more of a celebration of what he’s done for the game of football,” Maclin said. “And not only at this level, but even the collegiate level of being the only primary defensive player to ever win the Heisman. I think he’s had a wonderful career. He’s been a guy who has been wreaking havoc for a long time.”
Quarterback Alex Smith echoed Maclin on Woodson’s durability in the league, but he also had a high compliment for the soon-to-be retired Woodson.
“I certainly don’t think there’s anyone that’s had the longevity – that’s moved around, that’s played outside at corner, inside at nickel and back at safety and has just played at a Pro Bowl level everywhere you put him,” Smith said. “He’s just a football player. Special.”
Meanwhile, Woodson told Sirius XM NFL Radio he will “savor every second” from getting dressed at his locker to when he takes the field Sunday.
And the moments will provide a sense of finality to one of the NFL’s greatest careers.
“It will be the final time I’m going to be able to critique myself from a uniform standpoint, run out there, listen to the national anthem, the last time I’m going to travel with the team as a player,” Woodson said. “It’s going to be pretty emotional.”