Appreciating Charles Woodson

I don't buy a lot of players' jerseys. I mean, I've gotten to the age where I could be a player's dad (who knows, my 9-year-old son Jackson thinks I will be someday). Mostly, when I wear a player's jersey, it's a retired guy: Ray Nitschke, Reggie White, LeRoy Butler. I broke my rule with Charles Woodson.

For many of us, the infatuation came when he was at Michigan. A rare athlete, he became the first and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman, when he beat Peyton Manning. He was a stud in Oakland, till injuries and a falling out with Bill Callahan ended the honeymoon.

Enter that notorious bargain hunter Ted Thompson who pounced on the mercurial Woodson when nobody else would offer him big money. Woodson headed to Green Bay basically kicking and screaming. Six and half years later, he leaves as a Packer for life, certain to enter both the Packer Hall of Fame as well as the big one in Canton.

In announcing Woodson's release, Ted Thompson called him a once-in-a-generation player and that's precisely what he was, for how he played the game on the field as well as his leadership off of it.

He had a Reggie White-like influence on the Packers defense; the championship season wouldn't have happened without it. Young guys like Matthews, Raji, Williams and Shields followed his lead and learned what it took to get to the top.

One of my lasting memories of Woodson is Super Bowl XLV in Dallas: watching the tunnel as the teams came out for the second half. I was hoping I'd see #21, taped up, shot up and back on the field. But he had suffered a broken collarbone late in the second quarter and his day was done. His halftime speech was goosebump-inducing and the secondary stood tall at the end, not allowing Big Ben to have one more comeback.

It was heartbreaking to see Woodson on the sidelines when the Packers won their fourth Lombardi title, but it was a precursor of things to come. His mid-30-something body was breaking down and for a cornerback that usually spells the end. After missing chunks of the past two seasons, it was clear the team was ready to part ways with Ted Thompson's best free agent signing.

Will he play in 2013? Depends on what salary amount he's willing to play for. It wouldn't surprise me if a contender offered him a low salary to be a safety to see what he has left and to hope that his competitive spirit can rub off on his new teammates.

For us Packer fans, we'll remember Woodson as a punishing defender who made big plays when they were needed most. We'll remember a man who has given millions of dollars to charity.

For seven years in green and gold, Charles Woodson gave all of us plenty of highlights and moments to remember.

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