Hall of Fame 'Knocks': Woodson's Delayed Cry Worth Wait

Hall of Fame 'Knocks': Woodson's Delayed Cry Worth Wait

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By George Veras
Executive Producer, Pro Football Hall of Fame

First-person on-site accounts of the Class of 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame “Knocks on the Door.”

For the second time in two days, Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker walked behind an unsuspecting Class of 2021 Finalist. While he was expecting a “Knock on the Door” at some point, on this day Charles Woodson was sitting on his patio for what he thought was a filming of his take on the NFC Championship Game featuring Tampa Bay and Green Bay.

It was a long journey for Woodson, Orlando resident by way of Fremont, Ohio, the University of Michigan, the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. This was his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and if Las Vegas had set odds on his entry into Canton, it was a pretty good bet. But like each 2021 Finalist, he didn’t want to think about it or talk about it.

Baker and FOX Sports’ Jacob Ullman had collaborated the year before for Baker to walk on the set of the network’s halftime show during the 2020 playoffs to surprise Jimmy Johnson with his call to the Hall for the Centennial Class of 2020. The two also had worked together to surprise Joe Buck live at halftime of the Thursday night game on the NFL’s 100th birthday, Sept. 17, with the announcement that he was the recipient of the Hall’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, joining his father, Jack Buck, as the only father-son honorees.

For Woodson, several ideas were discussed, including having him on the set for the NFC Championship Game if Green Bay qualified, but it felt like too much of a suspicious stretch. Instead, it was decided to have a trusted Fox producer set up a crew to arrive at the Woodson house on Jan. 23 (a Saturday), the day before the game, for Woodson to record his insights into the game to be used the next day.

Unbeknownst to Woodson, the crew at his house would be from the NFL Network’s Honors team, with Baker in the last of a seven-car caravan that would arrive at the family’s home. An online search revealed the home had an outdoor patio, which could serve a dual function. Being outside each home for each knock was part of the COVID-19 protocol, and with outside space to work with, families could join the honoree for the moment versus the limited space outside front doors.

Most importantly in this instance, a side driveway led to the back and left of the patio. Woodson’s interview seat would be facing away from the driveway. As with the Peyton Manning “Knock” and coming up from behind the honoree, the interview with Woodson would begin and Baker would walk about 10 yards to tap on Charles’ shoulder.

Woodson’s agreement to schedule the interview with Fox for 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. set up the next question: How could the Hall find out if his wife and two young sons would be there as well? The Hall has been working with one of Charles’ Michigan teammates, Marcus Ray, on a medical documentary and reached out to him for his suggestion of a friend or family member who could be trusted to find out the family’s status for that day. Marcus identified Charles’ mother, Georgia, who lived 10 minutes away from her son and is a frequent visitor to the home. She agreed to call her daughter-in-law, April, to ask if she could stop by and see her and the grandchildren at 4:30 p.m. that Saturday. The Hall asked her to wait until the morning of the sting so this “ask” was not tied too closely to the Fox ask two days before.

Georgia called, and the setup was complete.

Baker deftly and quietly navigated this distance from the driveway to the patio and was close to reaching his target as Charles was being interviewed. With Baker about 2 feet away, Charles saw a reaction from the camera crew and turned to his right. His shoulders sagged with a “Oh, no, you got me; I was expecting a knock at the front door.” He stood, fighting off the surprise, and began to speculate who was the Fox producer and speculated his wife was probably in on the sting. It did not occur to him it was his mother.

The family, waiting behind the patio door inside the house, joined Charles as Baker reached into Charles’ heart, saying: “This is not about the polished veteran that you are today. It is about the 10- or 11-year-old boy that started this journey and all the adversity that you overcame to fulfill this dream.” Charles graciously nodded in agreement.

As his family gathered around him, Charles thanked them as he also asked who was part of the setup – surprised to see his mother nod. “I can’t believe that this is happening. I am so grateful to my teammates and coaches – for not for them would I be here today.”

Still no tears – until David Baker’s next statement: “We are here for you and your family not just today, but forever to protect and preserve your legacy as one of the best to have ever played and what you have done for the game and your family.”

As Baker spoke, Charles tried to look away from him and turned to his wife on his left and started to speak to her. “I feel like I have to go for a run,” he said, and then the sobs and tears erupted.

“I have been running my entire life, fighting to get here. I can’t …”

There were lighter moments, too.

When informed that with his ticket to the Hall, he would now break the tie with Ohio State and Michigan with 10 Hall of Famers each, Charles let out a loud, “Go, Blue! Damn, that is so great to be the tiebreaker.” He didn’t also realize is the 10th Heisman Trophy winner entering the Hall, joining a list of greats that includes Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders and Tim Brown.

Surrounding Charles were April, Charles Jr., Chase, Georgia and the family dog Bruno, a Yorkie-poodle mix whose favorite item – a football glove – rested in his mouth for this moment. Unabashed gratefulness swept over the group as the sun broke through the clouds, setting the stage for that 11-year-old boy to begin his journey, inspired by all those who came before him.

Watch Charles Woodson's "Knock"

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