The Green Bay Packers parted ways with cornerback Charles Woodson on Friday, possibly ending the former Michigan Wolverines standout’s career. Woodson’s next step will be revealed in the coming days.
However, if this is the end, it’s the conclusion of truly historic tenure both at the professional and collegiate levels.
In 15 seasons in the NFL spent with the Packers and Oakland Raiders, Woodson accumulated 719 tackles and 55 interceptions — 11 of which were returned for touchdowns.
A place in Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame awaits this eight-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All Pro. But he’s also destined for enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame to recognize the contributions he made on Saturdays.
Woodson became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, when he beat out Peyton Manning in the 1997 season voting. He remains the only defensive player to claim college football’s most coveted individual prize 16 years later.
Now, pundits note that Woodson was not a defense-only player like Heisman finalists Ndamukong Suh and Manti Te’o. His proverbial Heisman moment came on special teams, when he returned a punt to the house against rival Ohio State.
Woodson also scored a touchdown via the rush on a 33-yard carry against Minnesota, and hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions. Those numbers certainly help stuff the stat sheet, with Woodson registering 44 tackles and an impressive eight interceptions on the defensive end. Heck, he even completed a pass attempt for 28 yards.
Though his playing in all three phases of the game has become something of an asterisk when mentioning Woodson as the sole defensive Heisman winner in the award’s history, his contributing across each might be more impressive.
We’ve seen other college stars score in a variety of ways. Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman with touchdowns via the rush, pass, receiving and punt return. C.J. Spiller scored in each of those four phases and become the only collegiate player ever to score five ways, when he also had a kick returned in 2009.
Still, those two were limited to two units. Any player lining up with all three units is noteworthy. A star player doing so, and not simply lining up but actually contributing meaningful plays, is downright unheard of.
Woodson opened the door for future finalists like Suh, Te’o and Tyrann Mathieu to travel to New York and the Downtown Athletic Club. Another defensive player will win the Heisman some day, perhaps sooner than later.
But Woodson will also be the foundation. And in an era of football players occupying increasingly specialized roles, no one is likely to ever match his three-way play.