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Woodson embracing the lifetime honor of being a Hall of Famer

Published By Toledo Blade on July 18, 2021
Gary Click In The News

From the beginning, Charles Woodson’s skills defied the odds.

He rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior at Fremont Ross in 1994, running away with Ohio’s Mr. Football award and creating a litany of stories that are still retold at gatherings in northwest Ohio.

At Michigan, Woodson played offense, defense, and special teams, becoming the first — and only — primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. And he saved his biggest moments for archrival Ohio State.

Now, he’s a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, achieving something with an infinitesimal probability.

“It’s something that you get to celebrate forever,” Woodson said on a conference call. “It’s not one night. It’s not like I go in on [Aug. 8] and it’s over and I’m no longer saying I’m a Hall of Famer. No, I’m going to say I’m a Hall of Famer on that Monday, that Tuesday, the next week, the following year. I get to celebrate that for eternity, and what an unbelievable experience it’s going to be that night. And then for a lifetime [I get] to say, ‘I’m a Hall of Famer.’”

During his 18-year NFL career — 11 with Oakland and seven with Green Bay — Woodson was a four-time first-team All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowler, the defensive rookie of the year in 1998, and the defensive player of the year in 2009. In 254 career games, the defensive back recorded 65 interceptions, including 11 pick-sixes, 1,205 tackles, 20 sacks, and 33 forced fumbles.

Woodson, the fourth overall pick in the 1998 draft, ranks among the top five in NFL history in interceptions and passes defended. He’ll be enshrined in Canton in August.

“I think that the teams respected me as a player because I left it all on the field,” Woodson said. “I went out there and played my heart out each and every Sunday or whatever day of the week we were playing on. That’s where the respect and the love comes from because I tried to give them whatever I had.”

Woodson never forgot about his hometown, often citing the Fremont Ross Little Giants instead of Michigan in primetime telecasts. And Fremont has never forgotten one of its most notable residents.

State Rep. Gary Click (R., Vickery, Ohio) introduced legislation in March designating the U.S. 20 Bypass in Fremont as Charles Woodson Way. House Bill 204 was unanimously passed by the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

“This road designation will send a clear message to the youth in our community that they are not limited by life’s circumstances,” Click said. “With hard work, determination, and God’s blessing, any of us can be an overcomer as we strive for excellence in or on any field.”

Fremont Mayor Danny Sanchez gave an impassioned testimonial about the impact Woodson had on his life, noting that only his own parents were more important to Sanchez during his formative years than Woodson.

As a fifth-grader, Sanchez recalled breaking his ankle at the Sandusky County YMCA and Woodson helping Sanchez to his father’s car.

“That memory has never gone away,” Sanchez said.

Providing hope and serving as a mentor to Fremont natives has been a staple for Woodson since the mid-1990s. He stays connected to his roots by making appearances and offering words of encouragement. A Fremont tattoo is inked on his body.

“All the kids in Fremont, just know that you are somebody special and nobody here can take that away from you,” Woodson said. “But you have to believe that about yourself, that you’re special, and I always believed that.”

The Hall of Fame isn’t the only rare company Woodson will join in August. When he’s enshrined, Woodson will become just the 10th Heisman winner to make it to Canton. And he’ll have a familiar foe at his side: Peyton Manning, the person Woodson controversially beat out for college football’s MVP award in 1997.

“It’s like, man, ‘We’re tied at the hip,’” Woodson said. “Here we are, 18 years for both of us in the NFL, Heisman Trophy candidates together, played each other multiple times. Our names will always be synonymous in NFL history, so it’s a great honor to go into the Hall of Fame with one of the best to ever do it.”

Manning could say the same thing about Woodson.

“A game that you used to sit down and watch as a kid and it seemed so out of reach, all of a sudden you get there, you play your time, and then they tell you, ‘You know what? You’re good enough to be amongst the greats,’” Woodson said. “It don’t get no better than that.”

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