Woodson Appreciates Another Playoff Shot

To say Charles Woodson, now a 10-year veteran, is relishing this postseason opportunity with Green Bay doesn’t really capture it. You see, not only has Woodson not made it back to a Super Bowl since a January 2003 evening in San Diego, when his Oakland Raiders were blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he hadn’t even returned to the playoffs since then. - More | Packers-Giants Game Center


Many NFL players will say that there's no worse feeling in the game than walking off the field a loser in the Super Bowl.

It's not until many years later, after their playing careers are done, that they can truly appreciate getting to the sport's biggest game and losing, and that it ultimately does rank above not getting there at all.

But while they're still playing, that feeling of not getting it done when the chance was there, of not reaching the pinnacle and winning it all, drives players to atone for it. The taste at the end of a Super Bowl defeat is as bitter as they come, and there's only one way to wash it out.

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson was on that dreaded losing side in a Super Bowl. His Oakland Raiders were blown out, 48-21, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, and seemingly every day over the past five years when he's put a helmet on, he's dealt with the bad memories from that game.

"I'm always thinking about the Super Bowl game we had, what I could have done different, different plays in that game," Woodson said. "I'm just looking forward to another opportunity to get to that point, to win the game."

To say Woodson, now a 10-year veteran, is relishing this postseason opportunity with Green Bay doesn't really capture it. You see, not only has Woodson not made it back to a Super Bowl since that January 2003 evening in San Diego, he hadn't even returned to the playoffs since then.

The Raiders went just 13-35 in their three seasons after that Super Bowl appearance, and Woodson missed 14 games due to injuries in that time. Coming to Green Bay in 2006, Woodson helped the Packers improve to 8-8, barely missing the playoffs by percentage points.

So before last Saturday's NFC Divisional playoff game against Seattle, Woodson's last action in the postseason was that Super Bowl. He intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson on the game's third play, setting up a field goal for the Raiders and an early 3-0 lead. But it went all downhill from there, as the Buccaneers scored the game's next 34 points.

Walking out of the Lambeau Field tunnel last Saturday in his long-awaited return to the postseason didn't erase that past frustration from Woodson's mind. But it was a start.

"You could feel the energy," he said. "I missed it. I wish I could have been in the playoffs every year. That means you have an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl every year. I've had a long break, so it feels good to be back."

Woodson probably should be back in the Pro Bowl, too, according to several teammates and coaches. His career-high eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed were overlooked last year, in part because the Packers were just 4-8 around the time the Pro Bowl voting was taking place.

This season Woodson has four interceptions and two critical defensive touchdowns, a 57-yard fumble return in a 17-14 victory over Washington and a 46-yard interception return late to seal a 33-22 win in Kansas City.

He's paired with Al Harris in what has become arguably the top cornerback tandem in the league, and while Harris got an overdue Pro Bowl nod this season, he believes Woodson was overlooked more than just a tad.

"A little bit? I think it was a lot," Harris said, responding to a reporter's question following last Saturday's win.

"I think he should have made the Pro Bowl last year, I think he should have made the Pro Bowl this year. I really don't know (how he didn't). But in my eyes, Wood's the man."

The respect is mutual, as Woodson has noted often that he's had more opportunities to make plays because the opposite corner is an elite player in Harris, who usually guards the opponent's top receiver.

"He's good at what he does," Woodson said of Harris. "He's a man-to-man guy. If you want a guy in the league to guard a guy and just stay with him all day -- let both of them stay over there, no motion, just let those guys go at it all day -- I'd take Al."

Woodson also feels the Packers' defensive scheme, involving press, bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage, suits him best. He said in his early years in Oakland, he played a lot of man-to-man, and it was probably no coincidence that he went to the Pro Bowl his first four seasons (1998-2001).

{sportsad300}His last few years in Oakland, Woodson said he played multiple positions, lining up some at safety and occasionally as a pseudo-linebacker. And while he still played solidly - "He could play any type of system," says Packers secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer - he feels more at home now.

"We're expected to be on the line of scrimmage," Woodson said. "It puts a lot of pressure on our guys on the back end to go up there and make sure guys aren't getting free releases and getting downfield."

It's that type of challenge that Woodson thrives upon, and the higher the stakes and brighter the spotlight, the more rewarding the success.

A quiet and reserved but very well-spoken player, Woodson doesn't share his personal feelings with many, which is why his five-year postseason drought hasn't come up much. But those around him every day see the intensity he's bringing to his preparation for this playoff run, and they know why.

"We've never had any discussions, but I do know that it's important to him," Schottenheimer said. "He's a tremendous competitor, and he wants to play in the big games. There's some big games being played around here right now."

With his team one win from the biggest of games, Woodson's memory of five years ago is all the more unavoidable. But now he finally can let it work for him when it matters most.

"I think about it all the time," Woodson said. "Every year you watch the Super Bowl you think about it, so it's definitely a motivating factor.

"The Super Bowl is the one thing in my career that I don't have, so I want it. I want it, I need it, and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get it."

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