Charles Woodson's time with Packers took his game, and his life, to a better place

Class of 2021 Hall of Famer went from dreading Green Bay to embracing it

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Packers Hall of Famer Charles Woodson

GREEN BAY – Charles Woodson called playing for the Packers a "beautiful transition" in his career, but it sure didn't start out that way.

Speaking with the media virtually on Wednesday, three and a half weeks before his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, Woodson mused for a bit about what his seven years in Green Bay meant.

At first, it was almost literally the last place he wanted to go, but the Packers were the only team calling with a legitimate free-agent offer for the veteran cornerback. He was anticipating a college-like recruiting saga, or perhaps a bidding war, after eight years with the Raiders, but neither materialized.

"Of course my thought is I'm going to have people crawling over each other trying to get to me," he said. "I thought I was that type of player, (but) I really didn't have anybody checking for me, and that stung a little bit."

Combined with hearing from other Black players the notion the city wasn't a preferred destination for their non-football life, it all put Woodson in a poor frame of mind. He didn't want to answer the call from Green Bay, but he realistically had no other choice.

"It just got to a point where the writing was on the wall, where if you wanted to play, you're probably going to have to go to Green Bay," he said.

"So when I got there, I just had that reluctance in my heart and in my spirit, and I just couldn't believe I was in Green Bay. It made me combative off the bat, with really kind of everybody."

The difficulties with the transition are an afterthought now after Woodson won the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, became a Super Bowl champion the following year, and plastered his name all over the team record book.

Aside from his prodigious talents, it all came together thanks to those in his new orbit he began to trust back then. Woodson credited former Packers linebacker George Koonce, the team's director of player development at the time, with introducing him to the community and settling him emotionally.

It took only until his sixth game with the Packers to record the first of a team-record nine interceptions returned for a touchdown (and 10 defensive TDs overall), and it helped that he couldn't have asked for a better group of secondary mates to hang with every day.

"Once I started playing, got into a few games, and started getting my hands on the ball, things kind of settled down for me," he said. "I just think the football guys I had around me, Al Harris, Nick Collins, Tramon (Williams), and these guys, they made it work for me.

"I just felt we had a great group and through time I was able to work through that thing. I'm here, I'm making plays, you're going to be all right. It got to a peaceful point to where I thought I was going to retire there."

Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls (2008-11) while with the Packers and led the league in interceptions in 2009 and 2011. He holds franchise records for the most touchdowns on interceptions (nine) and the most defensive touchdowns (10). In 2009 he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press and earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.

That didn't happen as Woodson was let go following the 2012 season, when he returned to the Raiders to finish what became an 18-year Hall of Fame career.

In Green Bay, the 2009-10 seasons were his peak, as he became the leader, as well as the heart and soul, of not only defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit but the entire locker room. He ended that two-year stretch carrying the Lombardi Trophy off the field in Dallas with one arm in a sling from his broken collarbone in the first half of Super Bowl XLV.

Upon taking over Green Bay's defense in 2009, Capers featured Woodson in a playmaking role that could have him covering the opposition's top receiver one minute and blitzing from the slot the next. That dynamism was on display no better than on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit, when he emerged as the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.

Against the division rival Lions, Woodson split time covering all-world receiver Calvin Johnson and making rookie QB and No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford's holiday miserable. He capped the Packers' 34-12 blowout win by returning an interception for a touchdown and striking the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone – in front of many of the same fans who cheered him winning the Heisman at the University of Michigan a dozen years earlier.

"I ended up with 10 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a touchdown, and uh, probably something else, I'm not sure," he said, perhaps not remembering he picked off not one but two passes that day. "That kind of epitomized what I was as a football player. That particular game right there, it defines me as a football player and what I could do on that field."

Off the field, his time in Green Bay was highlighted by finding a wife and seeing two sons born, all of whom saw one of the game's ultimate warriors get emotional when he was informed in February he'd been chosen as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Waiting for those other free-agent calls that didn't come, Woodson never would've thought he'd get married and start a family in Green Bay, let alone take his game to another level there. It's all another aspect to his personal evolution in a place he initially never wanted to be, and now will never forget.

"That was really a time in my life when I was growing as a person," Woodson said. "There was a transition that happened there that was a beautiful transition, if you will, so that time was very special."

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