Charles Woodson announced Monday that he has two more games in him, tops. He is going out on his own volition in a game that eats its own in about a fourth of the time Woodson’s career lasted.
That alone makes him a Hall of Famer.
Anyone who plays 18 years in this game gets a good long look from the Hall of Fame committee, as they should. You can’t play 271 career games (including playoffs) and not be a great player. You can’t be a dominant player at your position on a series of good teams in Oakland and Green Bay, including a Super Bowl ring and not be a Hall of Fame candidate.
And even allowing for the caprice of the Hall of Fame room, where great players often have to wait years beyond the time they should because of the clogged funnel of the process, Woodson should breeze right in.
But it is his choice to leave now that is most fascinating, because he surely must see that the Raiders are a team in transition and he won’t be around for the end of that journey. He can believe they have repositioned themselves on a success track, though the future is never ours to know. He can decide that his teaching skills have been exhausted on this team, and starting over somewhere else is not a consideration.
He has essentially done all he can do. He has essentially done all anyone can do, and more than almost anyone has ever done.
It is instructive in a nerdtastic kind of way that the list of similar players on Woodson’s Pro Football Reference page – the players whom his career most looks like on a year-by-year basis – are dominated by Hall of Famers. Willie Brown, Darrell Green, Mel Blount, Mel Renfro, Jimmy Johnson, Aeneas Williams, Roger Wehrli, Mike Haynes . . . all were the dominant figures at their position at their career apogees. Almost none were as influential in their 18th year of service as Woodson was this year.
But it speaks to his connection with Oakland at this, the time of the town’s most perilous position within the NFL firmament since 1981, that he came back in 2013, not so much a last-payday deal as a statement of what he regarded as unfinished business between him and the city in which he made his pro debut.
And it worked more than merely well for him. It made him an athletic hero in a town that could use one. It makes him a sure-fire coach, front office figure or broadcaster. It makes him a seminal figure in a sport for nearly 20 percent of its entire existence. It makes him a Hall of Famer.
In fact, not only a Hall of Famer, but the kind where the person making the presentation on his behalf in the selectors’ room in five years could probably get away with merely standing up, saying, “Charles Woodson,” and sitting back down again. The first person to do that was Cooper Rollow of the Chicago Tribune when he presented Walter Payton in 1993, and Ira Miller of the San Francisco Chronicle did it for Joe Montana seven years later.
As you can see, it worked well.
But the Hall has become a more crowded place of late, and there are still more qualified candidates out than in. Some have had to wait decades for their moment. Some never have it at all.
But a Hall of Fame that cannot find room for Charles Woodson is a room that should be converted to a JiffyLube, we can all agree. He left the game of his own volition, and left it better when he did.