Charles Woodson: Keeping 'the main thing the main thing'

Charles Woodson is reminded all the time that the end is close, and that's even before the games start. AP Photo/Tony Avelar

Raiders safety Charles Woodson will conclude his 18-year career on Sunday. The nine-time Pro Bowler is sharing his thoughts during his final week. The following is the fourth installment, submitted Friday night.

Last week I played the final home game of my career, but the practices this week have felt a little bit different because it's the last game of my career, period. As you inch closer to the finish line, you just start to feel more accepting of the fact that it's coming to an end. Each moment that passes by, you get more and more comfortable with the decision that this'll be it. In stretch (Thursday), you hear players yell out, "C-Wood, it's your final stretch. It's your last Thursday practice." It's funny because I realize it's here, that this is going to be it. It's the last dress rehearsal before the final act. I was reminded about the last stretch, and when I was in the cold tub, I was reminded that it was probably going to be the last time I'll get in the cold tub. I was reminded by the equipment guys that this would be the last time that we go through the checklist of what to pack in our bags for the away game. I mentioned to them that we've got to get a picture on our way out the door before flying to Kansas City.

When I announced last week that I was retiring, just saying the words was hard. When I spoke to general manager Reggie McKenzie, owner Mark Davis and coach Jack Del Rio, it was difficult. I broke down when I talked to Del Rio. It was hard to even get the words out to actually say, "Coach, this is going to be my last year." Because the truth is that there's still a reluctance. I mean, just because you know it's time doesn't mean you really want to walk away. Any player would love to play as long as he could, but at some point you just know it's not going to happen. And as time goes on, again, a little more of you becomes more accepting of the fact that this is going to be it.

This week, Baltimore Ravens receiver Steve Smith announced that he was coming back to play another year after saying at the start of the season it would be his final year. I heard it from everybody: "Hey, man. You see that Steve is coming back? Go ahead, now it's your turn to come back." But I told them that there's no coming back for me. I can understand Steve. He announced early on that he was done, and he was having a great year and then he had the Achilles injury and probably feels like he wasn't able to write the script the way that he wanted to. So he would rather give it another go than have it end like that. For me, it's not that way. There's no second-guessing or going back. I was able to play the entire year, even though I had some injuries.

Everybody assumed my shoulder was separated so I was going to be out early in the year, but just from talking to our doctors, a lot of times when people separate their shoulders there is other damage as well, whether it's the rotator cuff or something else. With me, when my shoulder popped out, once I went into the training room and got the X-ray and the doc popped it back in, I immediately felt fine. I was like, "I'll put a harness on and I'll be ready to go the next week." Jack didn't plan on playing me the next game, but I didn't see myself sitting out any time, even though it was a pretty nasty injury.

It would be easy to be distracted this week, but there's a saying I learned a long time ago. It says: "You've got to keep the main thing the main thing." The main thing, for me, is to go out and play the game. That means you've got to keep your routine. You've got to do all of the things that got you to this point, and you have to do them the same way. Just because it's your last game, or last home game, the game itself isn't going to change so you can't change. After the season is over, things will change for me as a person, as a man; it will be different because I won't be an NFL player anymore. But for this game and the last home game a week ago, I still have to play the game. That's why I'm able to focus on the task at hand, because this is what I do, this is what I've been doing all my life. I know how to separate outside things from my preparation so I'm able to play the game.

My body has taken a lot of punishment over the years, so of course there's no question you think about the concussion issue. You don't have much choice but to think about it because of all the attention it gets now, what's happened to some of our former players, and the lawsuits that are going on. But at the same time that goes back to the question of regret. Being scared of the future, does that make you regret the past? I don't. I love this game. This game has had a hand in almost everything I've been able to do in my life. I had a great deal of fun playing it. I know it's a dangerous game -- it was a dangerous game before we learned about the potential consequences of concussions. I don't go into retirement being scared of what could happen down the road. I just look at it as, honestly, what's done is done. I played the game 18 years and I've just got to continue to live. What's going to happen down the road, if anything, is going to happen.

ESPN senior writer Jim Trotter assisted Woodson in writing this entry.