Raiders safety Charles Woodson’s illustrious career will end on Sunday against Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, the place where it began 18 seasons ago.
So many moments happened in between, from earning the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award to the Raiders' run to the Super Bowl to his Defensive Player of the Year award to a championship won with the Green Bay Packers to the nine Pro Bowls earned along the way. Woodson should get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, as he is widely considered among the greatest defensive backs of all time.
Way back before Woodson was referred to with a goat emoji, he walked with an air of invincibility created by a Heisman Trophy and Michigan’s national title run.
Woodson’s regular-season debut remains vivid in his memory. “I just remember how alive that stadium was, and it provided a good introduction to the NFL,” Woodson said. “It was funny because I was a young player coming in with a lot of confidence, and I thought they weren’t going to test me."
The Chiefs certainly did. Elvis Grbac targeted Woodson on his first three passes. Andre Rison caught two, and Woodson was called for pass interference on the third. The Chiefs scored a touchdown, recovered a fumbled kickoff return and went after Woodson on the next play, and Rison beat him for a 30-yard touchdown.
Welcome to the NFL, rook.
“Then they came right at me on the first three or four plays and then, Bam! I give up a touchdown,” Woodson said. “I thought, ‘Well I guess this is what it’s going to be like.’ I had to settle down fairly quickly and understand that this is the real NFL. You have to be ready. I was humbled very early on.”
That wake-up call worked. Woodson’s receivers were rarely open after that, and targets went away from him. The rookie finished with six tackles in a game Kansas City won 28-6. Derrick Thomas stole the show that day, with six sacks and a safety.
It was the start of something special for Woodson.
“I remember that game well, and how excited I was to be in the NFL,” Woodson said. “That first game was something else.”
Woodson will play his 254th and final game on Sunday. He’s trying to keep the week normal, especially after an emotional farewell last week in the season’s last home game.
“You try to separate the emotion from the preparation, but it’s hard,” Woodson said. “I try to go through things as I’ve done them the previous 16 weeks to get ready for a game.”
Face-to-face with a fan: Charles Woodson was the target of a fan running on the field during a Christmas Eve victory over the San Diego Chargers that doubled as his final home game.
A fan wearing a No. 24 jersey came up from behind, faced his idol and threw up Woodson’s trademark “O” hand signal for Oakland.
“I didn’t say anything to him,” Woodson said. “When I felt hands around me, I thought it was the ref because he was the only guy around me. Then I turned around and was shocked because the guy had street clothes on. He threw the ‘O’ up, and I asked the official or the cop if I should throw the ‘O’ back. He said, ‘That guy’s gonna spend the night in jail, so you might as well.’
“So I threw it up, and the crowd went crazy. It ended up being harmless, but it’s scary at the same time. It ended up being all good.”