Michigan Football: Twelve Wondrous Wolverines — #3 — Charles Woodson — The Difference Maker
It has been stated that water covers 70% of the earth and Charles Woodson covers the other 30%. Well, yes that is good old-fashioned sports hyperbole, but if Charles Woodson was in the area he could cover anyone.
The number three Wondrous Wolverine is Charles Woodson, a player who truly did make a difference for a great Michigan team, and a player who was one of the best college defensive backs of all time.
Charles Woodson was another Wolverine from south of the border. He grew up in Fremont and attended Fremont Ross High School. Charles was named “Mr. Football” in Ohio and was named to several prep All-America teams. While in high school, Charles ran up plenty of yardage and scored a ton of points.
Charles Woodson chose Michigan as a college destination. Even as a freshman, watching him merely warm up, one could tell that Charles truly was a special athlete. How special? A strong argument could be made that Charles was the best athlete to ever put on the winged helmet. As time went on, certain “special plays” confirmed his athleticism and ability.
The above was quickly demonstrated during Charles’ freshman year. He soon broke into the starting line-up and remained the lynchpin of Michigan’s defense until he left for the NFL. Woodson was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and was named to the first and second All-Conference teams by various sources. Charles, besides playing a strong cornerback, returned kicks and on the pass defense side of things ended up with five interceptions.
1996 was Woodson’s sophomore season and he continued to improve. He was named first team All-Conference and first team All-American. Charles was all over the field and the rare phenomenon of one defensive player taking away half of the field from the offense was starting to become a regular occurrence.
1997 was the season for Charles Woodson and the Wolverine team. The final result was a national title. Charles Woodson was a big part of this effort, supplying big plays on defense, on offense as a receiver, and as a punt returner.
During the 1997 season, Charles Woodson expanded his big stage moments. He made a near impossible interception against Michigan State along the sideline that is still a marvel to watch. During the Ohio State game Woodson interception a pass in the Buckeye end zone, scored on a pass from the receiver position, and in Desmond Howard fashion ran a punt back for a touchdown.
The result was a trip to the Rose Bowl and a victory against Washington State. In that game Woodson made another key end zone interception.
The rewards of the 1997 season were prodigious. Michigan was named national champions. For the second time, Woodson was named the Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year, again was named All-Big Ten and All-American, won both the Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski Awards, and won the Heisman Trophy. There were several other “lesser” known awards Charles won as well
Woodson winning the Heisman Trophy in 1997 became a unique situation. Charles was the first and still the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman. During the season, the argument was offered up that Charles was also an excellent offensive player, and as such should receive Heisman consideration. And that was true, but make no doubt, Charles was the best defensive player on the field.
After the magical 1997 season Charles Woodson was off to the NFL, being drafted high in the first round by the Oakland Raiders. He had immediate success starting the entire season and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The awards kept flowing as Pro Bowls, player of the year honors, and All-Pro honors were regular his first few years in Oakland.
Then the injuries started. Broken legs and bad shoulders limited his playing time for several seasons while with the Raiders. Charles played through the injuries as much as possible and still had some big game moments.The Raiders declined and eventually Charles found his way to Green Bay, signing a monster seven-year contract. The interceptions piled up, nine and eight in two high-level seasons. Two more Pro Bowls were secured and all was going well going into the Super Bowl of 2011. In the first half, Woodson broke a collarbone and had to watch from the sidelines as Green Bay held on to beat the Steelers.
In 2012 Charles Woodson again broke a collarbone but returned for the playoffs. He was released by the Packers and signed to a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders for 2013.
His professional career has been a resounding success. Charles has 55 interceptions, 11 were returned for touchdowns. And like at Michigan, Charles could lock down premiere receivers early in his pro career.
At Michigan, the number 1 jersey is now a somewhat hallowed tradition. But the truth is that any player who gets to wear Woodson’s number two jersey is also in a special class. Charles Woodson was as special as any Wolverine who ever played in the Big House.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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