ALAMEDA, Calif. — It was in the middle of a game in Seattle in the middle of the 2014 season, and Charles Woodson and Marshawn Lynch met in the middle of a pile.
Woodson, as was his wont, was furiously trying to rip the football out of Lynch’s grasp … to no avail.
“You could tell how tight of a vice grip he had on that ball,” Woodson recalled this week with a laugh.
“Nah,” Lynch told Woodson as the play ended. “I ain’t going to let you get it.”
You could say the same about Woodson and his old jersey number with the Oakland Raiders because 24, you see, is the Holy Grail of numbers in Silver and Blackdom.
Or have you forgotten the good-natured, ahem, dialogues between Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown and future Hall of Famer Woodson?
I’m the real 24.
No, I’m the real 24.
Sure, 20 years passed between the end of Brown’s career in 1978 and the start of Woodson’s NFL tenure in 1998, and Bob Keyes, Lance Harkey, Ron Brown, Patrick Bates, Larry Brown and Michael Huff all have worn the digits since the Raiders began play in 1960.
But none have really rocked No. 24 like Old Man Willie and C-Wood, ya dig?
Which is why Lynch putting on that venerated jersey after coming out of retirement and being acquired from the Seahawks feels more like a passing of the torch than the handing over of an olive branch to a cranky Oakland fan base.
Not that Lynch needed to ask Woodson for his blessing, but tires definitely were kicked.
“Before Marshawn even thought about coming back [Woodson] came to one of our events and I took a picture with him and I said, ‘Hey Charles, if Marshawn comes to the Raiders, can he wear that 2-4?’” Lynch’s mother Delisa told the Raiders’ flagship radio station 95.7 The Game.
“He said, ‘Yeah, Momma.’ So I knew then that he wasn’t going to mind.”
Mind? Woodson is flattered.
“I’m excited about it for Marshawn to have a chance to come home and play in front of friends and family,” Woodson said. “That number 24, that’s something special with the Raiders. I don’t think there’s anybody more worthy than Marshawn to wear that number.”
Woodson and Lynch both retired after the 2015 season, with Woodson joining ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew as an analyst before and after games.
So what’s his analysis of the erstwhile Beast Mode coming to Oakland, and whether the effervescent Lynch will be able to focus while playing at home in what will be his 10th NFL season.
“We all like to have fun; that’s not going to be an issue,” Woodson said. “It would be different if he was a younger player just coming into the league. But he’s a seasoned pro now with a different perspective of the NFL.
“It’s a positive and a plus to have him at this stage of his career. His main intention is to win a championship for Oakland.”
Drafted fourth overall by the Raiders in 1998 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Michigan, Woodson played his first eight seasons in Oakland before going to the Green Bay Packers for seven years. He returned to the Raiders in 2013 and played his final three seasons as the face of the franchise.
An icon for a fan base, Woodson would make an “O” with his hands to symbolize Oakland.
Lynch, meanwhile, is Oakland, and is a vaunted piece — no mere olive branch — for a Raiders team that just went 12-4 and got better in the offseason under the watch of general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio.
Picking up Lynch, Woodson said, was a “business decision” for the Raiders, much like the team’s pending move to Las Vegas.
“Reggie and Jack looked at it as solely taking that next step,” Woodson said.
“It’s already a spectacular offense with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and those two young running backs (DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard) and a strong offensive line. I don’t think you’re going to see a better offense in the league.”
So will Woodson again pick the Raiders and Packers as his Super Bowl favorites?
“Why not?” he said with a laugh. “One of them has to win, right?”
After spending 11 of his 18 years in the NFL in Oakland, Woodson has to have a reaction to news of the southern Nevada relocation, especially with Lynch coming to the East Bay on a two-year contract, yes?
Woodson said he’s sad for Oakland, but excited for the franchise.
“They needed a stadium and it’s big business,” Woodson said. “It’s hard to hear, but you go where the financing is. The [Oakland] mayor wasn’t willing to give up money she didn’t have, so kudos to her, too.
“But I’m also happy for Mark Davis, getting the stadium — they need a stadium — and moving the franchise forward.”
Imagine, then, Lynch playing a big role in the Super Bowl in that number 24, much like Brown did on a 75-yard pick-six of Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI, or like Woodson did with his first-quarter interception of Brad Johnson in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Woodson, in his now signature ascot, just might meet Lynch again — in the middle of a Lombardi Trophy presentation.