GREEN BAY – It didn't take long for Charles Woodson to get emotional on the stage at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton on Sunday night.
He put his passion on display for all to see.
That passion was for what matters most to him, the two pieces of his life that rank highest and converged during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech – football and family.
Woodson's 10 minutes with the attention of the football world, closing the show for the Hall's Class of 2021, focused mostly on the latter, from his mother Georgia's introduction to his heartfelt thoughts on what his sister and brother mean to him.
Woodson shared that his sister, Shannon, is dealing with COVID and couldn't be in Canton, but he was thinking about her fight, and the phone calls he'd regularly get from her during his career – sometimes driving down Lombardi Ave. during his seven seasons in Green Bay – reminding him that she loved him.
He called his brother Terry the "rabbit I was chasing as a child" whose "tough love" taught him he could play through just about anything. He used the example of battling through a broken leg in the Raiders' 2002 run to the Super Bowl.
But he just as easily could have mentioned hiding a shoulder harness under his pads and not missing a game in 2006, his first season with the Packers, helping turn around a 4-8 squad down the stretch. Or pushing through a busted toe in 2008 that kept him out of practice most weeks but didn't stop him from earning the first of four straight Pro Bowl selections in Green Bay.
Former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson reflected on his life and professional football career during a heartfelt speech on Aug. 8, 2021.
It took a broken collarbone, of course, to keep him out of the second half of Super Bowl XLV and famously forced him to hold the Lombardi Trophy aloft with just one arm afterward. That night, the emotions overcame him during a halftime speech in the locker room, when he knew he couldn't return to the game. As he implored his teammates not to let the opportunity for a championship slip away, it meant so much he couldn't finish what he had to say.
Even with so many poignant words Sunday night, his passion still showed more in what he did than said, crying throughout his speech, but being able to finish this one.
"Charles and Chase … ," he said to his sons, sitting in the audience with their mother and Woodson's wife, April, "once you go through your own journey, and life throws its obstacles at you, when you turn 35, 40 years old, you'll begin to understand why a grown man would stand up here and cry."
His way of thanking everyone for helping him achieve football immortality was to have anyone in attendance connected to Fremont Ross High School in Ohio, the University of Michigan, the Raiders or the Packers stand up.
Former Packers DB Charles Woodson received his gold jacket from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 6, 2021.
He scolded them to stay standing as an acknowledgement that he won Mr. Football in Ohio, the Heisman Trophy, a national championship, a Super Bowl title and numerous NFL accolades and team records with all of them, together.
But this was about his family, and first and foremost his mother and presenter, Georgia. He began by serenading his "mama," after her videotaped introductory remarks that emphasized how he gave his "heart, mind, body and soul" to the sport. Those were the same elements he zeroed in on after the 2010 NFC Championship in Chicago, rallying his teammates to win one more game.
Georgia's video also included the line, "He knew what he wanted."
On this night, Woodson wanted everyone to know how much he loves his mom, how much he appreciated and admired her sacrifices as a single parent, and how much he wants his boys to love their mom the way he loves his.
That's where it all starts for Woodson, so it ended there, too. With love, and with passion, for what matters to him.
"Love everyone, give everything, never doubt, build your legend," he concluded. "Thank you. We in the Hall of Fame, baby."
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