Michigan had just locked up the Big Ten championship after a dominate 20-14 win over Ohio State in Ann Arbor. The roses were blooming in the Big House, especially the one stuck between Charles Woodson's teeth, bobbing with his head motions, clearly visible through a large grin. He had started the downfall of both John Cooper and Ohio State's series record against Michigan in the Nineties. A punt returned for a touchdown, eerily similar to Desmond Howard's career-capping moment six years earlier, put the bow on his bid for the Heisman Trophy, but it wasn't certain he would be voted atop the heap in New York the following weekend.
In August of last year, I wrote a small piece on Woodson, excerpted below:
Woodson was a speed, cover, and tackling monster of a corner inhabiting the body of one man, and any team was foolish to throw in his direction, or kick to him. Michigan couldn't stop at only having him on defense and special teams, either. They had to rewrite the offensive playbook to get him into packages for receiving, and even passing, because he was that good.
He won a Super Bowl, won every conceivable college award in 1997, a Heisman trophy, and a national championship. The crowning moment of his career, when he was called up to the podium to accept the Heisman, is only made sweeter when one sees the look on Peyton Manning's face, because Manning cannot mentally compute that he just lost the biggest award in football to a guy from Ohio. Not every Michigan fan thought he had a chance to win, but hearing the third Michigan player's name in the same sentence as Heisman still gives me chills.
Coming out of Fremont, Ohio, one of those football talent factories, Woodson's accolades don't stop at the Heisman Trophy. He received the Walter Camp Award for player of the year, the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Year Award, the Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year Award, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice, plus the Jim Thorpe Award for overall top defensive back. That's a full trophy case, but the Heisman was the true shocker, since no defensive position player had ever won the award.
Everyone assumed Peyton Manning was a lock, but when Woodson made plays like his improbable leaping interception against Michigan State, where he flew 15 feet in the air, Manning never stood a chance.
Woodson's senior season saw eight interceptions, a punt returned for a touchdown, and 44 tackles. Michigan used him on offense before it was popular to have dual-threat players on a roster. Number two was everywhere on the field, and when his name was called in New York, it was a sign that Michigan was destined for a special season finale in Pasadena against Washington State.
When I was 11 years old, I owned a number-two jersey with a Rose Bowl patch on the shoulders, and of course it didn't have Woodson's name on the back, but since his time as a player, there's been no one else so closely associated with said number. He did more than thought possible while at Michigan, surpassed every previous defensive great in program notoriety, and helped his team achieve a level of success not seen for almost five decades.
That was Charles Woodson at Michigan.
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