Christmas Eve in Oakland, California, is going to be a night of farewell.
What could be the final home game for the Raiders in Oakland will definitely be the final home game for superstar safety Charles Woodson. Woodson, who turned 39 in October, announced Monday that he will retire at the end of this season. The Raiders host San Diego on Thursday in their final home game of the season.
"An incredible career, man," Woodson said Monday of his 18 seasons in the NFL. "It goes beyond words. I never intended on playing as long as I have, but this is the way it's happened and I'm so grateful for it."
Of Woodson's decision, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie said in a statement: "Charles Woodson is one of those players that comes along and reminds you why you love the game. He is truly a one of a kind player that goes above and beyond his Heisman trophy and future gold jacket. It has been an honor to have worked alongside Charles for so many years and have the confidence to call him what he truly is: the G.O.A.T. He is, without a doubt, the embodiment of what it means to be a Raider."
The Raiders, who are 6-8, close the season at Kansas City on Jan. 3. Woodson said it was important that Raiders fans knew of his intentions before his final game there.
Woodson told his teammates about his decision Monday. He said he knew on the morning of the Raiders' loss at Detroit on Nov. 22 that this would be his final season.
"So many of [my] teammates throughout this year have talked to me about next year. 'Come back next year, I know you're coming back next year,' and I would love to, because it's what I feel about the organization, where I feel like it's headed. Where it's going, it would be great to grow with this group of guys," Woodson said. "Honestly, I think physically I could do it. My body has responded, but mentally it's not there, not going to happen."
Woodson signed a one-year contract in January to remain with the Raiders. Oakland drafted him out of Michigan, where he won the Heisman Trophy, with the No. 4 overall pick in 1998. He went to Green Bay in 2006. He returned to the Raiders after the Packers cut him in 2013.
Woodson won the defensive player of the year award in 2009 and won the Super Bowl with the Packers to end the 2010 season. Known for being candid and articulate, Woodson reportedly signed with a television talent agency recently. He is likely to be a first-ballot inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Woodson, known as a generational defensive back, has 65 interceptions and 13 touchdowns in his NFL career. He is finishing his career strong and has a good chance to be named to his ninth Pro Bowl when selections are announced Tuesday night. He also has been named first-team All-Pro three times.
Woodson has five interceptions this season and was named the AFC defensive player of the month in October. He has been playing with an injured shoulder since Week 1 and said in November that all he was hoping for each week was "get me to Sunday."
Of what he'll miss most of all, Woodson said, "Standing on the sidelines before games. The National Anthem, just really listening to it, listening to the words. You know this is a great, great country that we live in to be able to play this great game. I'll miss that moment. I'll miss away games. I'll miss packing up, gathering what you need, the players that you need. That's all you have. You take it, you go on the road and you're going in there into someone else's stadium trying to win a game at their home. I'll miss that. I'll miss that traveling and just taking what's necessary to get a win."
Thursday night's game will surely be emotional in Oakland. In addition to Woodson's final game there, there is a chance it will be the last game for the franchise in Oakland. The Raiders are one of three teams, along with the Chargers and Rams, interested in relocating to Los Angeles. NFL owners are set to vote in a Jan. 12-13 meeting in Houston on whether to allow one or two teams to move to L.A.
"It will be emotional," Woodson said. "I've been emotional all day, really, so it will be that way Thursday for myself, for my family, friends, for Raider Nation. I feel like coming back here and playing for the second time, we were able to rekindle something that we had years ago, so it was really fun, man, coming back here and playing. So it will be a pretty emotional day."