Green Bay Packers defensive back Charles Woodson is making his second trip to the Super Bowl. As he makes his next trip to the NFL title game to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 45, his play is aging like a fine wine.
And it’s fitting because Woodson is an oenophile who developed his interest in wine while playing for Oakland, near the world famous Napa Valley. He partnered with former Robert Mondavi winemaker Rick Ruiz to develop a signature wine label, “Twenty-four by Charles Woodson.” I’ll give you the whine to go with your cheese by saying Charles Woodson is number twenty on the Big Ten Icon’s top 50 student athletes. The list is based on their accomplishments during their collegiate years; there will be no consideration for his professional career, well maybe a little.
Woodson played college football at the University of Michigan for the Michigan Wolverines. In 1997, Woodson led the Wolverines to a national championship. He is the only player in the history of NCAA Division I-A football to win the Heisman Trophy as a primarily defensive player, edging out then University of Tennessee and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The look of “are you kidding me” surprise on Peyton Manning’s face is one of the enduring images in the Heisman archives.
By West Lamy
Manning was an All-America quarterback at Tennessee, the fresh-faced, well-spoken son of an All-America quarterback at Mississippi, the older brother of a fresh-faced, well-spoken future All-America Ole Miss quarterback. With that family tree, and an undeniably impressive four-year body of work that attracted reams of national publicity, Manning’s coronation as the Heisman Trophy winner was almost a foregone conclusion.
Only this time the voters got it right. They didn’t automatically anoint the star quarterback or the top running back from one of a handful of glamour teams. They chose the best player, based on the irrefutable evidence junior Charles Woodson presented as a lockdown cornerback, big-play receiving threat and dangerous return man for the nation’s best team, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan has a major rivalry with Ohio State, considered one of the fiercest rivalries in American sports. In a pair of ESPN fan polls, in 2000 and 2003, the Michigan-Ohio State series was voted the greatest rivalry in American sports. Woodson was the Ohio prep player of the year as a record-setting running back at Ross High School in Fremont, where he also played basketball and ran track.
Was he a lock in to be a Buckeye?
No. Instead of picking the local hot girl he picked the smart girl by the name of Michigan. When he arrived at Michigan, the coaching staff resolved the offense-or-defense dilemma by using him on both sides of the ball. Woodson started at cornerback in his second game as a true freshman and made five interceptions during a 9-4 season in which the Wolverines went 5-3 in the Big Ten and beat Ohio State, but lost to Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. Big Ten coaches voted him Conference Freshman of the Year.
There was no consideration for Woodson’s professional career, thus ranking him number twenty. Moments after the Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC Championship Game vs. the Chicago Bears, it was time for someone to step forward and provide some post game words in the locker room.
The identity of that person was not surprising, as Bill Simmons would call him the alpha dog. It is clear Woodson has emerged as the Packers’ soul. Woodson spoke for about a minute, delivering a swagger and rousing talk. The swagger meter was raised when Woodson stated “President [Barack Obama] don’t want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We’ll go see him. White House on three. One, two, three. White House!”
Most Packers players were aware that Obama, a noted Chicago Bears fan, said he would attend Super Bowl XLV if the Bears were playing it. Woodson turned that perceived slight into part of an inspirational message that sent players and coaches into believers. Charles should bring a bottle of “twenty-four” wine along with him for the president. When they sit and talk over the wine he can ask if he should be ranked higher on the list of Big Ten Icons’ top 50 student athletes.
West Lamy is The Sports Bank’s Senior Black Correspondent. Apologies to Larry Wilmore and the Daily Show for borrowing their joke.