Raiders safety Charles Woodson will conclude his 18-year career on Sunday. The nine-time Pro Bowler -- the only person in NFL history to record at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career -- has agreed to share thoughts during his final week. Following is the first installment, submitted Monday night.
The alarm was set for 6 a.m., but like most mornings I was awake before it went off. My first thought wasn't football. It was the drive. It's 40 minutes from my house in Danville to the training complex in Alameda, and since I'm not too fond of driving any type of distance, 40 minutes feels long to me.
I like to listen to the news on my way to work. That's where I catch up on current affairs or make phone calls if I need to. I listen to CNN or MSNBC a lot, so I know what's going on around the world. There are so many things happening, as far as the terrorist attacks and whatnot, I want to keep myself aware. You're in a bubble a lot of times in the NFL, so you're kind of removed from everything that's happening in the real world, like, the shootings in Chicago. The story that stuck with me this morning was Tamir Rice, the young boy who pulled out a plastic toy gun and ended up being shot to death by the police, and how the grand jury didn't indict the officers. That was a big one for me today.
I wanted to make it business as usual when I arrived at the facility. It was important to go through my everyday routine and keep things the same because I still have work to do. My NFL portrait is not finished yet, and it won't be until this last game is over. But it was on my mind. It crossed my mind every moment I was out there. It was like, everything I do now -- going to meetings, special-teams period, getting in the hot tub, getting in the cold tub, maybe the steam room -- this'll be the last week that I do it. This week when I heat and steam on my shoulder and knee and groin, I'll be thinking about how this would be the last week I will do it.
While I'm sitting there, a part of me is experiencing -- let me see if I can find the word -- it's a little bit of apprehension because I'm 39 years old and I've been playing some type of organized football since I was 6, and I know this is going to be my last week doing it. But at the same time there's a part of me that's happy because I was able to do it my way and leave the game the way I wanted to leave it.
The funny thing about it is, I don't know that I can actually explain what it was that led me to say it's time to retire.
I woke up the morning of the Detroit game and, almost immediately, I was like, This is it. Why? What hit me in that moment? I guess I felt like if somebody would've called and said, "C-Wood, the weather's so bad around the city, nobody can get anywhere, and the game's actually been canceled," I would've been all right with it. I've never felt that way about being in a game before. Never in my life on game day did I feel like I would be cool with it if the game wasn't played. To feel like that on a Sunday, I knew it was time. It just hit me out of the blue.
When I was a young player, I used to always say to myself that I would see retirement coming, that I would know exactly when I'm going to do it. Back then, I always said it was going to be during training camp because I hated training camp and the two-a-day practices. But training camp is so easy now, I knew it wouldn't hit me then.
I had a lot of people reach out to me when I made my announcement, but the moments that meant the most to me came inside the facility. When I first called owner Mark Davis and informed him that this was going to be my last year, he kind of chuckled like, "No way, man." It was almost like, "I'm not letting you retire. You're playing too well, and you've got to come back next year." That meant a lot to me, for the owner to want me to come back, being that I'm 39. Then talking to general manager Reggie McKenzie, and him saying how he felt about me as a player, just telling me that I played the game the right way and it was a joy to watch me play, that meant a lot. He said how when I was a free agent the first time and he was in Green Bay, he had to have me; then when he arrived in Oakland, he felt he had to have me again. And then coach Jack Del Rio, who told me, "Charles, I feel like you're doing it the right way."
Somebody asked me today what's the difference between my last college game and this being my last NFL game. The one difference is that there is nothing after this game. There isn't another level to the game I can go to as a player. There's finality with this game that hasn't been a part of any other game I've ever been in. We were out there running today, doing our conditioning, and Derek Carr was like, "Wood, these are going to be your last tempos." He was right about one thing -- this will be my last time running tempos as an NFL player.
I was trying not to think about it, but it's there. Each day there's going to be something that I'm doing for the last time. Bittersweet. That's probably the best way to describe it.
ESPN senior writer Jim Trotter assisted Woodson.