R. Woodson turns back clock, finds career still ticking

Raiders' 16-year veteran still has ability to come up with big play in big games

Super Bowl

Raiders vs. Bucs

January 25, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Rod Woodson has turned back the clock by taking time off.

The Oakland Raiders' free safety, 37, has traded practice for film study, becoming merely a bystander for most of the workouts this season. The routine has led to his teammates calling him "Sunday" because that's the only time the Raiders see him play.

While the nicknames change, the standard remains the same because of Woodson's impeccable timing.

Just as he did so often for the Ravens, Woodson relies on anticipation and instinct to turn games around at the critical moments. The antique of an aging defense is still one of the game's top playmakers and led the league with eight interceptions this season.

Tomorrow, Woodson will go match wits with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Brad Johnson, the league's third-rated quarterback.

"He's the same old guy," said Raiders defensive tackle Sam Adams, who has played with Woodson for the past three years, including the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship season. "He's always made plays being in the right place at the right time. You can't say it's luck. After a while, you got to say he's putting himself at the right place at the right time."

Woodson is playing in his third Super Bowl in his 16-year career by being in the right place at the right time.

When he was released in the Ravens' historic salary cap purge, he didn't have many options to consider. Woodson essentially signed a one-year contract worth $1.75 million with the Raiders two months after being cut.

But if Oakland hadn't called, where would Woodson being playing these days?

"In my back yard," said Woodson, rattling off the address of his Pittsburgh home.

Instead, the league's active interception leader has picked up where he left off.

Woodson was supposed to be done after the 1997 season, but he shifted from cornerback to safety with the Ravens and won a Super Bowl title.

He was really supposed to be done after last season. But he rejuvenated himself as a game-breaker again.

"Year in and year out for the past 5 1/2 years, I've had to prove myself that I am worth on a football field," Woodson said. "That's OK. You need to prove yourself. I think you need to earn your keep."

Woodson, however, is unsure whether he'll try to earn his keep next year or simply retire.

Injuries have been a factor in keeping him out of practices and could play into his decision. He has been battling tendinitis in his knee all season and bruised his wrist last week.

"I don't know that right now," Woodson said.

By continuing to play this season, he became the final piece in the Raiders' secondary.

Although Oakland's defensive backfield is more experienced than the Ravens', Woodson is once again the sergeant of the secondary. He has started more games (203) than the rest of the Raiders' defensive backs - Charles Woodson, Tory James and Anthony Dorsett - combined (130).

"He continues to make big plays," Raiders coach Bill Callahan said. "That's why we brought him in here. He's fun to be around because he has such a feel for the game. These guys feed off him back there [in the secondary]. He understands the angles and nuances of the game. His ability to teach the game to the other players has been a real valuable commodity for us."

Woodson returned two interceptions for touchdowns to add to his NFL record (12), including running one pick 98 yards for a score in Denver. He also had a hand in 11 (eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries) of the Raiders' 31 forced turnovers.

"I think I understand the game and the systems you're going to face," Woodson said. "I'll go back to watch the film and see what they're going to do and our own weakness. Having that knowledge and understanding and being patient on game day gives you the opportunity. You've got to take your shots, but you can't take them every play. I think you have to understand that."

His survival has been based on the film room and not the practice field. By dissecting quarterbacks and analyzing receivers, Woodson is always a step ahead.

"I've been lucky in my life," Woodson said. "I got another opportunity to play again and I made the most out of it."

At a glance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (13-5)

What:Super Bowl XXXVII

Site:Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When:Tomorrow, 6:18 p.m.

TV:Chs. 2, 7

Line:Raiders by 3 1/2More inside

Bucs:Walker, offensive line gain respect. [Page 4c]

Overtime:Tagliabue expects new system in '03.[Page 4c]

Kickers:Janikowski, Gramatica a study in contrasts.[Page 5c]

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