Charles Woodson, arguably Michigan’s greatest football player and the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, said he appreciates the Wolverines’ growth under coach Jim Harbaugh, now entering his fifth year, but the absence of a victory over arch-rival Ohio State is a glaring disappointment.
Woodson, inducted last December into the College Football of Fame, joined this week’s “View from the Press Box” podcast by The Detroit News’ Angelique S. Chengelis and touched on a number of Michigan football-related subjects, including how the current team has performed, his play during the Wolverines’ magical 1997 championship season, and quarterback Shea Patterson calling him about wearing the No. 2 jersey.
He also touched on defensive line coach Greg Mattison’s departure to Ohio State, Tom Brady, players deciding to skip bowl games, his television career, how he is working to revive the ascot fashion statement and also his wine label.
Woodson was asked if the program is where he thought it would be entering Harbaugh’s fifth season as head coach. Harbaugh was hired in 2014 after then-coach Brady Hoke’s Wolverines when 5-7. Michigan under Harbaugh has not yet beaten Ohio State and is coming off a 62-39 rout this past season.
“No, I don’t think from a standpoint of, and I’m looking at one game for the most part, I’m looking at the Ohio State game, I’m certainly not pleased where it is in that respect,” Woodson said on the podcast. “We’ve put together some good regular seasons, 10-win seasons. I mean, those are great, but you’ve got to beat that scarlet and gray team, and so in that respect, disappointed.
“I know Jim, wherever he’s been, he’s had success, so we’re looking for him to continue to lead this team in the right direction, but we’ve got to win that last game. That’s the bottom line.”
Woodson said last spring the Ohio State game hasn’t been emphasized enough. Harbaugh, when asked last June about the comment, firmly disagreed.
“It’s fair for Coach Harbaugh to take exception because I’m not in the locker room, I’m not on the team during the season, I don’t know what’s talked about,” Woodson said on the podcast. “I can only go off how we approached it when we were there.
“We always focused on that team. The way we practiced, if you didn’t practice each and every day good enough to beat Ohio State, you didn’t practice hard enough. Playing for the Wolverines, you have to prepare each and every day to beat Ohio State. If you do that, you’re going to win a fair share of your games. When I talk about emphasizing that game, yeah, we put that game above all other games. That’s just the way it was.”
Here are other highlights from the Woodson podcast interview:
►On declaring himself the best player in the country before the Penn State game in 1997: “To me, I always thought I was the best player anyway. To me, it was an opportune moment to profess it to everyone else when I got asked that question. … I do believe the last game of the season playing against our biggest rival, and coming up big in that game and winning that game to get us to the championship game, the Rose Bowl, that was the game that solidified (winning the Heisman).”
►On Shea Patterson calling him about wearing the No. 2 jersey: “He got in touch with me. He said he wanted to, out of respect, call and ask me if it was cool to wear the jersey. My thing is, he didn’t have to call me to wear it.
“It’s not as if the jersey is retired, so whoever is going to the University of Michigan and they want that particular number, of course if it’s available, you wear it. It was pretty cool for him to call me and pay that kind of respect to ask for the jersey. My comments to him were, when I played at Michigan and I wore the No. 2 I just wanted to make the people who wore that number before me to be proud of the person who was in it then. I wanted him to think about that.
“And also, I needed him to be a leader on the team … and show people how to work and get better. He didn’t have to do it. And he did. And the rest is history.”
►On Michigan's last two games of the season: “When I watched the Indiana game, this is kind of my take, watching Indiana be able to run all the crossing routes they did on us and have success with it, you know what’s going to happen when you play the next opponent. They’re going to do the same thing. That’s exactly what the Buckeyes did. They just have better athletes.
“So you can’t go out there and play that team the same way you played Indiana expecting to win that game. … Florida (in the Peach Bowl) is definitely not one of the best teams in the country, they’re a good team, but they do have speed, and you allow speed to get up on you, it will hurt you. And that’s exactly what happened in that game.”