IRVING, Texas — The past cannot be changed. He knows this, understands this, maybe even regrets this.
So he tries not to dwell on the night when he knocked a ball from Tom Brady's hand and the Tuck Rule became famous overnight. He does not spend a lot of time thinking about how his interception of a Brad Johnson pass three plays into Super Bowl XXXVII turned out to be the last highlight the Raiders had. He does not worry about the team meetings he slept through, or the curfews he partied through.
At this point, the only thing Charles Woodson can do to correct the past is overwhelm it with the future.
So you will hear him, in some distant NFL Films highlight, speaking quietly and forcefully to his Packers teammates in the locker room before the start of Sunday's Super Bowl XLV. You will see him line up against the Steelers in the slot, on the corner and in the defensive backfield during the game. You will see him cover receivers, chase the quarterback and stuff the running back, too.
This is another chance, maybe a final chance, and Woodson sounds like a man tired of living with his regrets.
"I'm older now. I'm closer to the end than to the beginning," Woodson said. "Going once (to the Super Bowl) and then not going until (eight) years later, you understand how hard it is to get here and that there is no guarantee you'll ever get back. I'm taking in every moment of it."
It is an interesting thing, this reconstruction of a career. Woodson, 34, has a Heisman Trophy, seven Pro Bowl appearances, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award — and heavy baggage from his early days.
He was a star in Oakland, no doubt about that. He was fast, fearless and relentless. And most of the time he was the same way off the field. There were alcohol-related arrests. There were clashes with coaches. There was a sense that he was skating by on talent alone.
The interesting thing is Woodson does not shy away from any of it. Hang around enough athletes and you get used to hearing how they were misunderstood or how small incidents were blown out of proportion. Not Woodson. He owns it all.
And he does not blame the Raiders for cutting him loose after 2005.
"I had a bad rap. I was a little bit of a wild child. I enjoyed myself as a young man," Woodson said. "I guess they were tired of it."
For two consecutive years the Raiders had designated Woodson as their franchise player. His annual salary had grown to more than $10 million, and Oakland was getting diminishing returns. He missed 22 games with injuries from 2002-05, and the Raiders chose to let him walk instead of paying him the $12.6 million he would have been due in 2006.
He was not yet 30, and was a four-time Pro Bowl pick. Woodson should have been one of the most attractive free agents on the market, but the rest of the NFL didn't see it that way. The realization came to him when he was watching SportsCenter and saw a list of the high-end free agents available. His name was nowhere to be found.
A handful of teams showed a little interest, but most never called back. Woodson had a choice to play in Green Bay as a cornerback or reunite with his onetime Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay as a safety. He took the bigger money and the greater security in Green Bay.
"We did a lot of research into that," Packers GM Ted Thompson said. "We knew some people who knew some things. We felt very comfortable with Charles and what he could bring to our game and our team. From a leadership standpoint, he has been better than we have ever dreamed. He is the consummate professional football player. He is very focused on what he wants. He is an impressive man."
It was not an immediate success in Green Bay. Woodson had some issues with coach Mike McCarthy, but eventually he became the conscience of a team. He was chosen by teammates to deliver the pregame speech for every playoff game. He has become a virtual rover in Dom Capers' defense and has made up for declining physical skills with his outstanding instincts.
"The thing people don't know about Charles is he's one of the smartest individuals I've ever been with," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. "Take football away from it. He's a smart, smart man. If I ask him a question, it might be two minutes before he comes back with a response because he wants to convey what he's really thinking."
Much of the reputation has been repaired. Woodson has statistics that would look presentable in the Hall of Fame, and he has been honest enough to curry favor with those who pay attention to that sort of thing.
His time as a cornerback is probably drawing close to an end. He is fine in the slot but has trouble going one-on-one with younger, faster receivers on the outside. His future, as the Bucs once assumed prematurely, is probably at safety.
But at the moment, Woodson is concerned more about this weekend's game. He understands careers are viewed differently when reflected in the sparkle of a championship ring.
"I need it," Woodson said. "That's what drives me."
The future is here, and Woodson is ready.