ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) – Charles Woodson’s return to Oakland began with hundreds of fans gathering at the team’s facility urging him to come back.
The second stint will come to an end following an emotional farewell at the Oakland Coliseum.
Woodson announced Monday he will retire following his 18th NFL season, ending a career that included a Heisman Trophy, a Super Bowl title and numerous other honors.
Woodson said he realized late last month that he couldn’t play another season and wanted to announce his decision before playing his final home game Thursday night against San Diego.
“I felt it was only right that Raiders fans, my fans, fans that have watched me play for a long time, I’d let them all know that this Thursday night would be the last time in the Coliseum I would be able to run out there in front of our fans at home,” Woodson said at a news conference.
Woodson is one of the most accomplished defensive backs to play the game, ranking fifth all-time with 65 interceptions and tied for first with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper with 13 defensive touchdowns.
He won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1998, AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and is a three-time, first-team All Pro selection.
“Charles Woodson is one of those players that comes along and reminds you why you love the game,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said.
“He is truly a one of a kind player that goes above and beyond his Heisman Trophy and future gold jacket. It has been an honor to have worked alongside Charles for so many years and have the confidence to call him what he truly is: the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time). He is, without a doubt, the embodiment of what it means to be a Raider.”
Woodson is still playing at a high level at age 39, despite dealing with a shoulder injury that he sustained in the season opener and that forced him out for a few plays Sunday after a hard hit on former teammate Randall Cobb.
Woodson has played 965 defensive snaps this season and has five interceptions and three fumble recoveries, ranking second in the NFL with eight takeaways.
“There are so many players who play this sport and other sports who would like to go out that way, playing well, doing what they love to do,” he said. “I feel very good about the way I performed not only this year but my whole career.”
Despite dealing with several injuries early in his career, Woodson has played the second-most games of any defensive back in NFL history with 252.
Only Hall of Famer Darrell Green has more with 295 and Woodson will join Green in the Hall in Canton, Ohio, soon.
Woodson said he told owner Mark Davis, McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio of his decision earlier Monday. He then told his teammates in an emotional meeting that he was retiring.
“Honestly, I think physically I could do it,” he said. “My body has responded. But mentally, it’s not there. It’s not going to happen.”
Those emotions will only be stronger Thursday night when Woodson takes the field at the Oakland Coliseum for the final time. The game might also be the final NFL contest in the Coliseum as the Raiders could move to the Los Angeles area after the season.
“Coming back here and playing for the second time we were able to rekindle something that we had years ago,” Woodson said. “It was really fun coming back here and playing. It will be a pretty emotional day.”
Woodson burst onto the football scene as a college star at Michigan when he won the Heisman Trophy and helped the Wolverines win a share of the national championship in 1997.
He was then picked fourth overall by the Raiders and immediately made an impact, winning the defensive rookie of the year. He helped revive the Raiders as they earned three straight playoff berths capped by an AFC championship in the 2002 season.
But the Raiders couldn’t break through for a Super Bowl title, losing the AFC title game at home to Baltimore in the 2000 season, falling to New England in the “Tuck Rule” game the next season and then losing the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay the following year.
Injuries hampered Woodson the next three seasons and he left for Green Bay as a free agent in 2006. That revitalized his career as he had 37 interceptions his first six years with Green Bay, winning the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
But the Packers cut him after the 2012 season and after getting little interest in free agency, he finally returned to Oakland. He arrived for a free-agent visit only to be greeted by fans begging him to come back.
“That day was pretty awesome to come here and pull up and see all of the Raider fans still having love for me,” he said. “That was really cool.”
The Raiders won just seven games his first two seasons before being competitive this season with a 6-8 mark heading into the final two games.
Woodson said he will miss standing on the field for the national anthem and traveling to road games with his teammates the most. But he decided he wanted to spend more time with his family, his winery and perhaps start a TV career.