“There's a lot of love out there. I could feel it,” Woodson said after the Raiders lost to the Packers 31-21. “A lot of people chant my name. I still see a lot of 21 jerseys. It felt good to go out there and receive that type of welcome. You know what? It is exactly what I felt like it would be. The fans here understand that when I went out there, I left it out on the field every week. They can respect that. They respect that (from) players and that’s what I give them.”
Woodson enjoyed seven brilliant seasons with the Packers, with 38 interceptions – including a franchise-record nine pick-sixes – and 15 forced fumbles. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 with a league-high nine interceptions, one of the faces of the Super Bowl championship team in 2010 and led the league again with seven interceptions in 2011. He was moved to safety in 2012 but missed nine games with a broken collarbone and was released after the season. He landed in Oakland, where he is spending his second season starting at safety.
“Of course, it stings to have a team say they don't want you anymore,” Woodson said. “I think I got over it fairly quick. I think you have to because you understand those things happen in the business. It's just the first time it happened to me and it happened after 15 years. But you get over it. You move on and you know it opens up a new chapter in your life and your career, so you move forward.”
If Woodson was temporarily stung, Green Bay’s defense felt a season-long sting last year. Without Woodson, Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings formed the league’s most impotent duo with a combined zero interception and zero forced fumbles in 2013.
“I think I could help anybody,” said Woodson, who had one interception and three forced fumbles in 2013.
Both sides have turned the page. Woodson, who arrived in Green Bay with the reputation of being a malcontent but exited as a consummate team leader, feels back at home in Oakland, where he is one of many veteran faces on a rebuilding defense. Green Bay might have needed Woodson last season but it doesn’t need the 37-year-old veteran now, not with Burnett, Micah Hyde, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Sean Richardson giving the Packers a quality four-man depth chart. So, there was no bitterness from Woodson on Friday.
“You know, it was just seeing old friends,” Woodson said. “Guys that I've played with for many years and guys I went into battle with week-in and week-out. It was great to see everybody.”
Also returning home were receiver James Jones and defensive end C.J. Wilson, who departed in free agency this past offseason. Jones caught 310 passes for 4,305 yards and 37 touchdowns during his seven seasons with the team, including a league-leading 14 touchdowns in 2012. With the younger and cheaper Jarrett Boykin waiting in the wings, the Packers said good-bye to the 30-year-old Jones.
“In a perfect world, I’m sure everybody when they get drafted wants to play for the same team and retire and live a happy life, but it’s a business and it doesn’t always happen like that,” Jones said. “(Not) everybody in the Hall of Fame played on (the same) team. You’ve got to take the good with the good, the bad with the bad. But like I said, I don’t hold no grudges. I love those guys. Coach Mike (McCarthy), (general manager) Ted Thompson, I thank them for the opportunity. They gave me when they drafted me. I thank them for the opportunity they gave me to come here and even start my career. I have no hard feelings.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.