- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson won't even go there. He could easily savor his second shot at winning a Super Bowl, or at least spend a few minutes celebrating how much his team has overcome this season. Instead, he quietly goes about his business while offering words of wisdom to younger teammates. Don't let this chance slip away, Woodson often reminds his fellow Packers. You never know when you'll get another one.
Although Woodson is one of two current Packers to have played in a Super Bowl -- defensive end Ryan Pickett is the other -- he is the one whose legacy could be most bolstered by a victory. He's already been to the Pro Bowl seven times and won the league's defensive player of the year award. Now Green Bay's meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV presents Woodson with the final challenge of his 13-year career. He has a chance to prove he's not just another great player who will leave this game without being a champion.
He knows that the elite defenders at his position won titles, men such as Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson and Darrell Green. Charles Woodson's previous opportunity to join that club came in the 2002 season, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blasted his Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.
"There isn't a minute when I don't think about what it would mean to win a championship," Woodson said during a recent interview. "My list of accomplishments in this game is pretty long. But when you're done playing, all people want to know is one thing: Did he help his team win a championship? Those other things are nice, but that's all that really matters in the end."
Woodson is so hungry for a championship that he even mentioned it when he was honored as the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. When a reporter asked him if was thinking about retirement at that point, Woodson said quitting wasn't an option until he won a title. It was the kind of comment every aging star makes as his career begins to fade. In his case, he sounded very much like a man trying to make up for lost time.
Woodson's career is best summed up in two phases. The first period was with the Raiders from 1998-2005, when he played in four Pro Bowls but often seemed like a man on cruise control. Nobody was forecasting him as a future Hall of Famer in those days. He was the kind of star who passes through the league regularly, the gifted athlete who shines brightly for a few years and then vanishes without much fanfare.
Now fast-forward to what's happened since Woodson's arrival in Green Bay in 2006. Gone are the days when he would sleep through meetings and dismiss the value of offseason conditioning. He's become a serious student of the game, one who has registered 30 of his 47 career interceptions over the past five seasons, while also affecting the game with his blitzing and open-field tackling. Aside from Rod Woodson, no other cornerback in the past 30 years has displayed such a diverse range of talents.
That Charles Woodson now understands that legacies just don't happen. They are carved out of tough breaks, eye-opening setbacks and the ability to capitalize on the opportunities he and his Packers teammates now have within their grasp. In fact, Woodson still can recall how tough it was for his older teammates on that Oakland team to accept their loss eight years ago. Former Raiders star receiver Tim Brown was one of those men who would get only one chance at holding the Lombardi Trophy.
This is why Woodson has been adamant about keeping his current teammates focused on what lies ahead. "We talk about it all the time among the defensive backs," he said. "And I can see that the guys are in the right frame of mind. After the NFC Championship Game win [a 21-14 victory over Chicago], a lot of guys were saying that the feeling [of heading to the Super Bowl] hadn't sunk in yet. That's what you want to hear. You want the guys to be thinking about the next game. Once you get past that point, then you can let all that good stuff sink in."
The most noteworthy change in Woodson's approach to the game is how vocal he's become late in his career. He used to be the kind of guy who preferred to do his job quietly and let the results speak for themselves. These days he recognizes that just isn't enough anymore. He's a man now fully aware of the difference between a great player and a great leader.
Said Pickett, who played in Super Bowl XXXVI with the St. Louis Rams: "His messages have been on point. He has been more of a vocal leader [this season]. He normally is quiet, but he's been speaking out, just letting everybody know this is hard, this is rare. We have players who have been here for 12 and 13 years who have never been to a Super Bowl. So we have to seize this moment and capitalize on it."
Woodson acknowledges that he's not thinking about retirement any time soon. He's had too much fun playing with the Packers, and he realizes their long-term potential. If they beat Pittsburgh next Sunday, he's greedy enough to take another shot at a second ring. If they lose, then he'll pray this won't be his last return to that stage.
It also helps that Woodson had a chance to be around great players at the end of their careers while in Oakland, men such as Brown, Jerry Rice and Rod Woodson. Most importantly, he was able to see how little they cared about numbers and awards at that stage of their lives. The only thing that mattered to them was how they would be remembered. These days, as he prepares for his next shot at a championship, that's the only subject on Charles Woodson's mind as well.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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