Editor's note: This is the third part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Monday, 5:40 p.m., at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Tale of the tape:
Woodson (24): 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 16th season, Michigan
Manning (18): 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, 16th season, Tennessee
DENVER -- Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning crossed paths 15 years ago at Radio City Music Hall. The NFL Draft wasn’t such a sideshow then, with dozens of college players in expensive suits, some smiling in funny hats while others bury head in hands during an agonizing descent into the later rounds.
Back in 1998, only the best of the best were invited. The defensive back from Michigan and the quarterback from Tennessee were part of that select select few. They first met at the Heisman Trophy presentation weeks earlier, when the can’t-miss defender intercepted Manning’s prize.
Manning went first to Indianapolis. Woodson went fourth to Oakland on that memorable day.
“It was a long time ago,” Manning said. “It was a whirlwind day, obviously an exciting day for both us. They didn’t invite 50 guys like they do now. I think there was just four or five of us. The draft is the official end of one phase of your life and the official beginning of a new chapter of your life. I remember Charles had his family there, I had my family there. Like I said, there was more room back in that room than there is now. It was an exciting day.”
The two haven’t seen each other much since then. They’ve intersected just four times -- all before 2008 -- during storied careers, but rarely has the head-to-head matchup meant this much.
Monday night’s game between the Raiders and host Denver Broncos features two of the league’s oldest players in prominent roles, staring each other down. Manning enters his second year as the Broncos unquestioned leader, a player who’s equal parts professor and athlete. Woodson remains the graceful playmaker he was a decade ago, though slightly older and wiser and willing to lead.
Both players are crafty, with the guile necessary to tempt the other into bad decisions. Whomever fares better gives their team a realistic chance to win.
That’s understood by both men. Competition will be fierce, but there is a mutual respect between them.
“He’s the best of the best,” Woodson said. “He’s seen everything. He probably watches film probably more than anybody else and he’s going to know what to look for when he walks up to the line. The thing with Peyton is that you try your best to give him different looks and not let him know what play you’re going to run. If he knows what you’re in, you see what he’s done the first couple of weeks.”
Manning has been near perfect this season. He has thrown for 769 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception.
Woodson has played extremely well, leading an upstart defense exceeding expectations.
“Charles is an excellent player; he’s had an outstanding career,” Manning said. “Sixteen seasons at any position is tough, but as a defensive back in this league? That alone is special. And you take the fact how well Charles has played at corner, he’s been excellent in the nickel, he’s playing some safety, it just shows his versatility and shows how he’s kept himself in great shape, great condition. Most guys at that point lose a step, but he has not done that at all.”
Their last meeting came this offseason, at Broncos HQ. Manning tried to woo Woodson to Denver as a free agent, to bring another big piece to his Super Bowl-contending juggernaut. While the allure was strong, the offer was not. It lacked guaranteed money, which sent Woodson back to Oakland’s warm embrace, back to the team that drafted him.
“You can’t blame us for trying,” Broncos head coach John Fox said. “We tried. It’s a business decision. When you’re a free agent, it’s all business. If you ask Charles, I’m sure the allure of coming back to the team that drafted him was exciting. There are definitely no hard feelings. That’s for sure.”
Unless Woodson orchestrates an upset. Even in that unlikely event, Manning would tip his cap. The pair have been playing at a high level for 15 years, an accomplishment impossible to disrespect. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was a 26-year old graduate assistant at Texas A&M when they turned pro, and understands how hard it is to sustain excellence. He also knows how important it is for Woodson to out-fox the professor.
“I think it’s a tribute to the way these guys have carried themselves,” Allen said. “Both of them are consummate professionals. They understand how to take care of their bodies. They understand the things they have to do to have success in this league.
It’s not shocking that both of them have played a long time and both of them have played at an extremely high level. It’ll be fun to watch those two guys go up against each other on Monday night.”