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Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson jumping on second chance

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He was on the podium, talking about another time. Charles Woodson was with the Raiders then, in another Super Bowl. So was Rich Gannon, out of the game now, but standing a dozen yards away, working as a commentator for Sirius radio.

Good times for a team which suddenly went bad, a team which since that appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII eight years ago, hasn’t had a wining season. Memories revived once more with the presence of two stars.

“Rich was a great quarterback for us,” said a briefly wistful Woodson. “I wish we could have got one together. He led our team. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Not together, but Woodson, who has survived, has a second chance with the Green Bay Packers, who Sunday at Cowboys Stadium face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

At 34, Woodson has overcome injuries and rejection and, still knocking down passes, still picking up fumbles, remains a force in a league dominated by men a decade younger than he.

“Charles understands the game,” said Dom Capers, Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. “He’s a good influence on our younger players. He’s a versatile guy. He’s a tough guy.”

Could there be any better description of a football player than versatile and tough? Maybe persistent. This is the end of Woodson’s 13th season, perhaps, even he concedes the end of his career.

He was a first-round pick, the fourth overall player selected back in 1998 from Michigan, where in 1996, he became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Eight years with Oakland and then — maybe because of a reputation for partying, maybe because of a leg once broken — he was gone. And there was only one offer.

“There were a lot of things said about me coming out of Oakland,” Woodson remembered. “Most of it was off-the-field stuff. I had a lot of injuries toward the latter part of my career there, and teams didn’t want to touch me. I understood, but I knew I could still play.

“I thought more than one team would bring me in thinking I still have some football left, but that wasn’t the case. There was only one team, and it was Green Bay.”

The Packers signed him in 2006. Three years later, the season of 2009, at age 33, Charles Woodson was NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“He’s very strong with his hands,” said Capers, “and he’s got great vision and instincts. With a guy like that, you want to keep him around the action as much as you can. He’s played corner, inside, nickel, dime, safety and we’ve blitzed him a lot.”

That other Super Bowl, when Tampa Bay blitzed the Raiders 48-21 is tucked away in Woodson’s mind.

“It was over way too fast,” he sighed. “You wonder, what was it all for. I had surgery on a broken leg to have the opportunity to win a Super Bowl, and it all just went away.”

Where Woodson went was across the country, Oakland to Green Bay, and the other day he was asked if he considered himself a cornerback or a safety?

“I’m a football player,” was the response.

And for a long while a very good one.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.