Charles Woodson’s Incredible Heisman Season Turns 20, And How It Almost Never Happened

I turned around, I walked off the field, walked into the locker room, put my clothes back on, walked to the dorm and I was like, ‘I’m transferring. I’m out of here. I’m leaving here…I don’t have to deal with this.’ So after practice, a couple of my guys, we all took visits to Miami, to the Hurricanes, they’re talking and, ‘Man, let’s just leave, let’s go to Miami’. And everybody was game, let’s go! I’m about to take my talents to South Beach! — Charles Woodson, on The Rich Eisen Show

Sometimes that’s all it takes. One disagreement. One fissure. One micro-aggression. One drop never tips the bucket; it’s always the accumulation. For Charles Woodson, a 20-year-old superstar in the making with the world at his fingertips, it’s hard to know what was and wasn’t on his mind in those moments. However, it’s in those moments where critical decisions can possibly be made. Woodson was taking his talents to South Beach, but first, a phone call had to be made to his mom.

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Admittedly, back in 1997, I didn’t know what I was specifically watching.

Sure, I was 14 years old, and I had a good understanding of football as I’d been molded by my experiences at Crosby Park Elementary and Madden NFL 1995-97. However, having the proper perspective of what was historic proved to be a bit tougher. Sure, I knew that Michael Jordan’s excellence was historic, but that came with a slew of titles, MVPs and signature shoes. I knew that the Dallas Cowboys three Super Bowls in four years was ridiculous. Everyone was a Cowboys fan all of a sudden, and no Big Three could be better than 8-22-88, right?

But what Charles Woodson was doing in Ann Arbor was tougher to quantify.

Are defensive players supposed to be the that good? Are defensive players supposed to be better at offense than offensive players? Is he supposed to return everything back to the end zone? When did Michigan become this cool?

Charles Woodson was making me question everything.

What I did know is that his stats weren’t going to be the answer. Trust, they were very good, but were they Peyton Manning good? Or Randy Moss good? Or even Ryan Leaf good? On defense, eight interceptions, nine pass breakups, 44 tackles (five for losses) and one sack. On offense, 12 receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns; 21 rushing yards and a touchdown. As a punt returner, 301 yards and a touchdown.

Yet, were those stats worthy of winning the Heisman? If you asked Woodson back in ’97, he was a non-believer. Per SI.com’s Tim Layden:

“I know people are talking about me, and the Heisman would be a great honor,” he said last week. “But they won’t give it to me because Peyton and those other guys have the numbers. I don’t have the numbers.”

He was right. He didn’t have the numbers. He had the moments.

The magic of the 1997 college football season and was that seminal moment when we heard Woodson’s named called as the winner of the Heisman Trophy. It was a confirmation of what we witnessed, and it actually passed the eye test. We all felt like Woodson was the best player in college football, but having the validation made it iconic.

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As a follow-up to the conversation regarding Charles Woodson transferring to the Miami Hurricanes. If he would’ve taken his talents to South Beach, he would’ve landed in the same defensive backfield alongside Ed Reed. He would’ve also faced off against Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Edgerrin James in practice every day.

Makes you wonder what would’ve happened if the coaches at Michigan had never called his mom.

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