December 15, 1997 in New York City, two athletes separately entered a room. What they didn’t know is that they would leave together. They literally sat next to each other during the Heisman Trophy (given to the best player in college football) presentation that night. Charles Woodson would win while Peyton Manning finished second. Four months later, Manning would be the top pick of 1998 National Football League (NFL) draft, going to the Indianapolis Colts. Woodson would be the fourth pick by the Oakland Raiders.
Manning would start as a rookie and pass for 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns (rookie record), and 28 interceptions. The Colts would lose a lot of close games and finish the season with a 3-13 record. Next year would be a NFL record 10 game turnaround. The Colts would finish with the second best record in the American Conference at 13-3. They would eventually lose in the playoffs to the Super Bowl Champion Tennessee Titans. The next six seasons, Manning would put up All-Pro and MVP numbers, but it didn’t equate to a Super Bowl appearance. In 2006, he passed for 4,397 yards and 31 touchdowns to lead the Colts to a Super Bowl showdown with the Chicago Bears. He was always criticized for being a great regular season quarterback but not one in the post season. He got the “monkey off his back” by leading the Colts to a 29-17 win over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI while being named the game’s MVP. He would finally get back to another Super Bowl in 2009. This time he would face defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints 31-17. Manning would undergo neck surgery in May of 2011, hoping to be ready to play at the beginning of the season. However, a second surgery in September derailed his entire season. In March of 2012, the Colts let Manning go. The Denver Broncos stepped up and gave him a job. The Broncos would make the playoffs but lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Manning would respond the following year with a season for the ages. He set the all-time NFL record for passing yards in a season with 5,477 and 55 touchdowns. He would collect his fifth league MVP trophy setting a NFL record. The Broncos would go to the Super Bowl and face the Seattle Seahawks. They got man-handled 43-8, resuming the criticism of Manning being just a regular season quarterback. In 2015, he rode his #1 ranked defense to a 24-10 Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers. That would mean Manning had just won his 200th game, setting an NFL record.
Woodson would start all 16 games of his rookie year, allowing him to be honored as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He led all defensive backs that year with 64 tackles and was third in the league with five interceptions. He would also be selected to his first Pro Bowl. His second season was much like the first, he was selected to this second Pro Bowl and was named an All-Pro. Woodson started all 16 games in his first four seasons. His streak of Pro Bowl selection would continue as well. In 2002, he suffered a shoulder injury that made him miss the first half of the season. This was uncharted territory for him. He would return but miss the last three games of the season with a cracked bone in his right leg. That didn’t stop Woodson from playing in the playoffs and helping the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII. Woodson wasn’t as effective and this led to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blowing them out 48-21. The following year the Raiders finished the season a dismal 4-12. The next two seasons Woodson would play a total 19 games because of leg injuries. Just like with Manning, another team saw value in a player coming off rehab from injuries. The Green Bay Packers signed Woodson in April 2006. He rewarded them with a conference tying eight interceptions and one touchdown for the season. In 2008 he would emerge as a Pro Bowl defensive player, his fifth selection. This type play would continue in 2009 where he became the first player to have a sack, two forced fumbles, and an interception in a game. He would be named Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson was named to his seventh Pro Bowl selection and lead his team to a Super Bowl XLV game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He broke his collar bone right before halftime but that didn’t stop him from cheering his team on to 31-25 victory. After two more seasons with the Packers, he was released. The Raiders jumped at the opportunity to have the All-Pro player back on the team. He answered the call by tying the NFL record for most defensive touchdowns with 13. Not to mention his 97 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception. In 2015, Woodson would do what he does best, play all 16 games while collecting five interceptions.
After 18 years of playing in the NFL, both players would decide to call it quits this past season. At the “young” age of 39, these veterans have earned the respect of their teammates, peers, coaches, and fans. That’s why it is no surprise that they are both being discussed as first ballot hall of famers. They are eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2021. It is no doubt that they both will be enshrined together in August of that year. They will both sit next to each other on that day and think back to December 15, 1997 when they were first joined at the hip.