(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Charles Woodson interview on Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, fast-forward to 11:25 of the following attachment: ▶ Ep 52: Pro Football HOFer Charles Woodson Joins The Show | Spreaker)
Former defensive Charles Woodson is one of those rare individuals. He was both lucky and good in his NFL career.
He was so good, in fact, that he was a first-ballot choice to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2021 and will be inducted in August. But he was lucky, too, drafted by an Oakland Raiders team in 1998 that included veteran wide receiver Tim Brown and, three years later, Jerry Rice.
“It was mind-blowing to me,” he said on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
Both pass catchers are in the Hall of Fame, with Rice considered the greatest of all time, and both served as mentors for Woodson – not only then but years later when, as an All-Pro, he embodied the lessons they taught him.
“I always tell people,” Woodson said, “when you grow up, and you’re watching NFL football you never really imagine yourself being on the same team or playing against those guys because it seems so far away from high school to going to the NFL. It’s really going to be a span of, like, four to five years before you have a chance to play in the NFL. It seems like years and year apart, but, actually, it’s not that big a gap.
“Then, all of a sudden, you get on a team, and you’re 21 years old, and here’s a guy you’ve been watching on TV for the last couple of years in the NFL. And it’s like: 'Holy cow, I’m actually on the same team with a guy I’ve been watching for years.' ”
That would be Brown, who was 32 and coming off a 1997 season where he led the NFL with 104 catches and produced a career-best 1,408 yards receiving. No need to remind Woodson.
“I remember my first practice going against him, one-on-one,” he said, “and he ran like a triple move on me and embarrassed the hell outta me. And I was like: ‘Man, so this is how it is, huh?’ That was kind of my breaking-in moment right off the bat.”
Woodson must’ve been a quick study. He was the 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year. But then, three years later, Brown was joined by the 38-year-old Rice, who left San Francisco after 2000 to form one of the oldest wide-receiver tandems in the league.
And the education of Charles Woodson continued.
“Here comes a couple of years later, the G.O.A. T. -- Jerry Rice,” Woodson said, “and it’s like: ‘Holy cow, I watched this guy in the Super Bowl catching slants in the end zone. I can’t believe I’m on the same team with this guy.’
"It was just great to be around Jerry because the work ethic that you heard about Jerry from afar ... I got to see it up close. And that was as real as advertised.”
Hall-of-Fame defensive backs have been schooled for decades by Hall-of-Fame receivers, but it’s rare when one gets to learn from two on his own team. Charles Woodson did, and he knows he’s lucky.
He’s also grateful.
“I got to play with two guys who were just real professional about what they did,” he said. “They came to work every day to work on their craft and get better. As a young player, you’re just able to kind of watch.
“You’re still young, so you’re still doing your own thing. But you always have those guys … kinda looking at them out of the corner of your eye, trying to see what they’re doing. I enjoyed my time with those guys and learned a lot from them.”