Raiders’ Charles Woodson is Christmas Eve

It’s fitting that the last home game Charles Woodson will ever play falls on Christmas Eve.

At 39 years old, and likely with enough physical ability left to play another season or three, Woodson has delivered some of the best gifts a football fan could ask for over his 18-year career. Yet this week, he announced he will depart the game as a player after this season.

His rookie season let others know he was going to be great. His giving started early, leading the Raiders to a five-win stretch beginning September of 1998 and ending in November.

Woodson had interceptions in two of the five, while holding receiver Joey Galloway to 30 yards on five targets and having trouble only with Michael Irvin, who failed to eclipse 100 yards receiving versus Oakland.

The Raiders finished 8-8 that season, despite starting four different quarterbacks and their best running back, Napoleon Kaufman, rushing for a mere two scores.

When Christmas rolled around, the Raiders weren’t in contention to win the five-team AFC West, the Broncos went 14-2 and Oakland finished second.

Woodson’s second season featured much of the same, though reasons for team optimism emerged with a 34-year-old Rich Gannon and a young runner named Tyrone Wheatley who rushed for eight touchdowns.

Things began to come together in 2000, Oakland won the West and made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to the Ravens, who beat the Giants in the Super Bowl.

The one thing that makes Woodson’s final game coming on Christmas eve the perfect metaphor is that he never played in a Super Bowl which his team won.

He was the catalyst, in many ways, for the Raiders or Packers to get to the postseason.

He was the ultimate playmaker in January, like when he recovered a fumble versus Miami in the divisional round, Dolphins running back Lamar Smith letting it go, and leading to a short touchdown drive capped by Gannon and receiver James Jett.

In 2001, versus a snowed-over playing surface and the New England Patriots, Woodson sacked Tom Brady and forced a fumble, a play that lives as one of the most controversial calls in football history.

The tuck rule game was exactly what Woodson’s career has been: All of the heart, making the play, and still coming up a day late and a dollar short.

It’s not the fault of the greatest defensive back to play in the NFL. He was a big reason his team’s made it that far. But just like Christmas Eve, the teams that Woodson played on just couldn’t quite make it past midnight to see ultimate joy and shiny things.

The drive would stall at 11:59 p.m.

And the one time Woodson would touch the Lombardi Trophy, during the 2010 season with Green Bay, Woodson couldn’t play in the biggest game of his life — he was hurt.

As Woodson cried, so mentally devastated that he wasn’t available to suit up, his empowered halftime speech of “Y’all know how much I wanted this…” lives on.

That’s been his mindset from day one: he’s going to want it more than anyone.

He has only made it to Christmas Eve, though.

Woodson is arguably the best cornerback in football history. It’s undeniable that he’s in the conversation.

Ranking 5th on the league’s NFL interception leaderboard, the farewell game could have gone a little better. It’s not that his 65 career picks aren’t good enough — they undoubtedly are.

Woodson wanted Christmas.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.