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Tom Flores, Charles Woodson hoping to take Raiders, Raider Nation to Canton

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Jim Plunkett was greatly influenced by Tom Flores (2:06)

Former NFL great Jim Plunkett explains what his relationship with Tom Flores is like and what it was like to be trailblazers with Flores for the Hispanic community in the sport of football. (2:06)

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The floor of the Oakland Coliseum was a veritable who's who of Raiders royalty on Dec. 15, 2019, with so many figures from the team's past showing up to pay their respects and bid farewell. It was the final game in Oakland for the franchise before the move to become the Las Vegas Raiders and it was Charles Woodson who had been chosen by Raiders owner Mark Davis to light the Al Davis Torch ... for the last time in this stadium.

Now, Woodson was no stranger to celebrity. Not as a Heisman Trophy winner. Not as a No. 4 overall draft pick by the Raiders. And certainly not as a Raiders legend in his own right.

But there was something about this certain octogenarian original Raider that shook Woodson that day.

"He laid eyes on me and said, 'Hey, Charles,'" Woodson recalled recently. "We were never together that much but he spoke to me as if we had known each other forever. And I was just like, 'Damn, that's pretty cool.' You know, it is Tom Flores.

"I knew he was a champion. That's what we were chasing as players. We were trying to catch coach Flores. We couldn't do it with the Raiders and for Raider Nation but he was a champion. A living legend."

Flores, who turns 84 on March 21 and won a pair of Super Bowls as the Raiders' head coach, and Woodson, 44, who helped lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl XXXVII appearance, are as intrinsically linked in Silver and Black as they are on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot that will be voted upon Tuesday. Flores is the lone candidate in the coach category, while Woodson is one of 15 finalists in the Modern-Era Players category.

And if both Raiders are selected for enshrinement?

"Two of us going in at the same time?" mused Flores, "I don't think they could handle it."


Flores' coaching career with the Raiders had long concluded by the time they were on the clock in the 1998 NFL draft. In fact, Flores had just finished his first season in the team's radio booth when the Raiders selected Woodson out of Michigan.

But that bug was still in Flores, the Raiders' coach from 1979 through 1987, as he sized up new coach Jon Gruden's first-ever draft pick, made, of course, with Al Davis' input.

"I just thought, 'If he's a DB and they drafted him in the first round, he must be one hell of an athlete,'" Flores said, referencing the late Davis' penchant for drafting explosive players. "And he was. He was quite an athletic player, a big play kind of guy."

When Flores was coach -- the Raiders won Super Bowls XV and XVIII as he became the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl -- the Raiders would default to drafting the "best guy on the board, unless there was an immediate need," he said.

But with Woodson, the Raiders selected a guy that could, on occasion, play offense as well as return punts and kickoffs. A multiple threat who made his bones at cornerback in his first Raiders tenure with four Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro selections to start his career.

So how would Flores, who was the first quarterback in franchise history and the receivers coach on John Madden's Super Bowl XI-winning staff, have attacked Woodson?

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Revisiting the epic 1997 Heisman finalist class

The 1997 Heisman finalists -- Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf, Charles Woodson and Randy Moss -- made up one of the most dynamic groups ever.

"Know where he is," Flores said of Woodson, who had 48 interceptions after the age of 30 and forced 34 fumbles in his career while recovering 16 fumbles. "You always have to know where the dangerous ones are, especially the ones who make plays. You'd need protection, but you'd have to double-pump and do everything you can to get his attention elsewhere."

As the saying goes, Woodson had Hall of Fame talent in his first stint with the Raiders, but became a Hall of Famer with the Green Bay Packers, for whom he played from 2006 through 2012. He went to four more Pro Bowls and garnered two more All-Pro picks while being the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2009 and winning a Super Bowl a year later, then was an absolute elder statesman in returning to the Raiders to play safety for three seasons.

Oh, and the member of the 2000s NFL all-decade team went to the Pro Bowl in his final season, too, playing in the league's all-star game in three decades, the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

"If that's how it's seen, and that's how it turns out, then I will have been lucky to go through that transition," said Woodson, the lone player in NFL history with at least 65 career interceptions and 20 sacks. In fact, his 13 defensive TDs, which include 11 pick-sixes, are tied with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper for the most in league history.

"Not many players can go through that and come through on the other side. If I'm able to grow into that guy that people looked at as an icon, I'd be blessed."


While the 48 selectors meet virtually on Tuesday to select the class -- Flores, as the coach candidate, will simply be a yes-no vote and will gain inclusion with an 80% approval vote, same as senior nominee Drew Pearson and contributor nominee Bill Nunn. Woodson, though, will need to survive the whittling of the list from 15 finalists to 10 and then down to five before they are voted upon individually on a yes-no basis and needing the 80% approval for induction -- there has been no indication yet on when it will be announced.

The Raiders recognize 26 Hall of Famers, from the obvious like Gene Upshaw, Art Shell and Ted Hendricks to Raiders-for-a-minute like Ron Mix, Eric Dickerson and Rod Woodson to, yes, even Warren Sapp and Randy Moss.

The Raiders had two guys in the same class three times -- 2000 (Howie Long and Ronnie Lott), 2003 (Marcus Allen and James Lofton) and 2015 (Ron Wolf and Tim Brown).

Flores, a finalist the past two years, and Woodson, a first-year nominee, being in this 2021 class would give it a decidedly different vibe.

"Mentally," Flores said, "I've always been a Raider."

Yes, even when Flores was winning a Super Bowl IV ring as a backup to Len Dawson with the Kansas City Chiefs and when he served as the Seattle Seahawks president, general manager and coach.

And while Flores had been content being the Ice Man, as he was known throughout his playing and coaching career due to his cool demeanor, both on and off the field, his profile has been raised a tad of late. A national campaign with Coors Light television commercials celebrating his stoic character during the NFL playoffs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMV1Y6_1BpI) has put his Canton case front of mind.

"Will putting Coach Flores' face on our can help him get into the Hall?" the narrator asks in one clip.

"Can't hurt," Flores deadpans.

Woodson, a winemaker in his own right, has always been on the stage, whether in Oakland, Green Bay or, yeah, when he was convinced to return to the Raiders, in part, by a rabid fan base that greeted him outside team headquarters upon his free-agent visit in the spring of 2013.

And with what Woodson, one of just three players to be named All-Pro at cornerback, free safety and strong safety along with Lott and Woodson, saw on a near-daily basis at the Raiders facility, that should have prepped him for what went down at the Coliseum that final day, right?

Starstruck? More like awestruck.

"The greats were around -- Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Jim Otto, Cliff Branch, Clem Daniels -- they were always around," Woodson said of a typical day at the Raiders compound. "It's a brotherhood that transcends time."

And if both Flores and Woodson get that Canton call, it would transcend the Raiders.