By Jason Wilde Special to Published Jun 10, 2008 at 5:39 AM Photography: Allen Fredrickson

Charles Woodson has found a football home in the last place he expected.

When the veteran cornerback signed with the Packers before the 2006 season, he did so essentially because he had no better offers. Or, more accurately, no other offers. After playing for years with the Oakland Raiders, he did not exactly put forth maximum effort to fit in with his new team in pro sports' smallest market.

All that has changed, however, as Woodson prepares for his third year in Green Bay. He's even shown up for most of the voluntary organized team activity (OTA) practices after not attending a single one his first two years, preferring instead to work out on his own in Houston.

"Usually, I work out in Houston as everybody knows. A lot of times, it's one-on-one work -- there's other guys there, but I'm motivated enough to do things on my own, working out by myself," Woodson said. "I kind of felt like I just need to be around the team. So I let the coaches know I'd be coming back up here, and here I am. So I'm pretty much here now. I'll get it done around here."

Actually, Woodson is getting a lot done around here. In fact, he'll be at Bacchus tonight, pouring his self-made wine, which he's been promoting throughout the off-season.

He's also kept busy finalizing plans to endow a scholarship at the University of Michigan, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1997 and left before completing his degree, something he's considering completing.

After an OTA practice last week, Woodson sat down in his locker and talked about all this and more. Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks with Charles Woodson. First of all, what are you doing here?

Charles Woodson: What happened is, I got on the plane and I was headed south, and somehow we took a wrong turn and I ended up here. So here I am. I said, 'Damn, what's going on?' But (the pilot) said 'Hey, we're here, we can't do anything about it. You're stuck.'

OMC: Seriously, though, you've never come to these before. Why the change?

CW: It's going to be a transition period for the Packers without Brett (Favre) around, so we need as many of the vets back, obviously, as possible. The guy hasn't missed a game in 17 years, or whatever it was. So not to have him around just for this organization, this community, is going to be a lot different. Just from a personal standpoint. I'm not back trying to take the role of the leader or nothing like that. I just felt like I needed to be here.

OMC: Are you starting to get used to being in Green Bay?

CW: I wouldn't say it's a matter of getting used to it. I'd just say, I've been here three years, and this is where I'm going to be. Of course, it was a transition period, coming here from Oakland. Being in Green Bay, not knowing anything about Green Bay, once the season was over, I was trying to get back home. Now, I've been here for a while, and different things bring me through Green Bay or Milwaukee or wherever else. I'm a Packer.

OMC: After the way last season ended with the NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants, there was a lot of talk that you and Al (Harris, the Packers' other over-30 Pro Bowl cornerback) were starting to show your age. Is that why you both came to OTAs?

CW: I hear it all the time. People always repeat what they hear on TV, you hear a lot of the sportscasters and those people speak about my age, Al's age, how we've maybe got another year left or whatever it is. You hear it all the time, so people repeat it when we're in the streets or around barbershops or whatever. I know I can still play. Al knows he can still play. We're just around here getting a little extra work so we'll be ready for the season to start.

OMC: So how long will you be in town? When will you go home to Atlanta?

CW: I know I'll be here through the mandatory minicamp (June 17-19).

OMC: How are you feeling physically? You've battled some injuries over the past few years.

CW: I feel good. I really feel pretty good. Probably out of the past five off-seasons, I probably feel the best of any of them. I feel really good.

OMC: Why do you think that is?

CW: I've had a few good seasons. I've had a few little nicks, you know, shoulder, knees and all that. But no broken bones or anything like that, so I've been able to virtually get through the seasons pretty well. So going into the off-season, my recuperation is minimal.

OMC: A few nicks? You played an entire 2006 season with a shoulder harness and your knee mummified to keep it from hyperextending it a second time. Last year, you played with a toe that bothered you all season.

CW: As long as you can play, it's all good. Those are things I was able to play through. But like I said, once the season was over, at that point, three weeks to a month after that I was able to get into the gym and run on a treadmill and all those things without any problems.

OMC: So with no Brett Favre and (long-snapper) Rob Davis having retired, don't you have to become more of a leader?

CW: I don't think so. My thing has always been to go out and play hard. I was never that much of a vocal person. I was vocal at times when I was in Oakland, team meetings and that type of thing. But I feel like if I go out, play, work hard, everybody else sees that. That's the only leadership role I really see for myself is to go out there and do what I've been doing.

OMC: Tell me about the scholarship you're endowing at Michigan. What made you want to do that?

CW: I wanted to do a scholarship at some point when I left school, but I didn't know in which capacity I wanted to do it in. And I got a call from my academic advisor last year, and she was telling me about a program they had where the board of regents up there was going to match dollar-for-dollar a scholarship to the kinesiology program, which I was in when I was in school. And we talked about it over the course of last season, and then I decided to make the grant. And it'll be a four-year scholarship for a student who wants to go into the kinesiology program.

OMC: And it's for a student from where? Anywhere in particular?

CW: It can be a student from the different areas where I've spent a lot of time. So of course Michigan, Ohio, Houston, Oakland and Atlanta. Those are the places.

OMC: Do you have your degree from Michigan?

CW: No. I still haven't finished. I've been contemplating that. I think there's a little pressure on me now because my mother just got her doctorate in theology from the Institute of Theology in Orlando. My brother has a degree and my sister does, and now my mom is a doctor. So there's a little pressure now.

OMC: You're a multi-millionaire, so you don't necessarily need your degree, but is that important to you?

CW: Like I said, there's a little pressure now. When your mom's been in school, my mom's 59, when she's been in school for the last eight years, grinding, writing thesis papers and dissertations, there's a little bit of pressure on you.

OMC: How many credits are you short?

CW: I don't even know. I left after my junior year, so I don't have a lot left. I don't necessarily know what I want to do. I was in kinesiology, but I'm not so sure that I want to finish it. I'm thinking more business-wise. That's something me and my advisor talked about. So the next time I'm up there, we'll sit down with the proper people and get a course of action together.

OMC: So tell me more about your wine. Seems like a pretty interesting sidelight for you.

CW: What I've been doing the last couple months is I've been traveling around to different restaurants and pouring my wine for the wine buyers and sommeliers, to let them know what I'm doing and taste the wine, and possibly go on the wine list. I have a real good relationship with the manager at Bacchus restaurant, so we decided to do a wine dinner down there. It's just an introduction to people, to let them know what I'm doing and let them know I have a very good wine.

OMC: Where else have you been pouring it?

CW: Texas, Atlanta, Ann Arbor, California, Vegas, and then I have a couple other places I want to get to that I haven't gotten to yet.

OMC: So you've basically been traveling all off-season doing this, have you been added to any wine lists yet?

CW: Well, I've gotten a very good response. They've agreed they want to carry it, but I'm not licensed to sell wine yet. There's still some hoops that I'm going through in order to actually be able to sell it or get it to the restaurants. I still have to get distribution, those types of things.

OMC: So I'm Charles Woodson, I decide I want to start my own wine. What do I do? How did this start, and how did it take off?

CW: It started a long time ago. It didn't pop up all of a sudden. As you know, Oakland's training camp is in Napa Valley. I didn't know anything about Napa Valley before I got out there. But training camp was right on Highway 29, which goes right through Napa Valley, all the way up through Calistoga. And so I kind of just starting going up and down the highway to different restaurants. And I saw that people were drinking wine -- all the time. Noon, evening, whatever. It wasn't that kind of drinking that we're all used to -- growing up, when we had something to drink, we were trying to get drunk, get a buzz. But this had a different feel, a different culture. So I met a guy out there who worked for Robert Mondavi Winery at the time, and we became real good friends, and then I started to visit some of the wineries, doing the wine-tasting thing. And in '01, when he was still at Mondavi, I actually bought some grapes then. And I made a merlot.

OMC: What does that mean, you made a merlot? You weren't, like, actually stomping on the grapes, were you?

CW: Well, I could have. The day I went up there, I had an all-white suit on. So it wouldn't have looked good. But what the wineries do is they take whatever they need for their production, and then a lot of times they'll sell off what they don't use. So you can buy those grapes.

So I bought those grapes, and then at that time, we were able to use Mondavi's facilities because my friend worked there, and they did all the crushing and distilling and fermentation, all that. And then you have to buy your barrels and all that stuff. So we did all that and had a merlot that I was going to label and give to people. Christmastime or whatever. But I ended up holding onto it, and I've got a wine storage out there where I keep wine I buy from different wineries out there.

Fast forward to 2004, and after spending more time up there, me and my partner decided to make our own wine. We ended up buying more grapes, which is what I'm pouring now -- an '05 Cabernet. And then from then on, I leased more acres out there. Now I have a 2006 and a 2007, which of course those won't be out until next year and the following year.

OMC: So, since I'm not a wine connoisseur, how long is the lag time for the wine to age?

CW: My '05 was in the barrels for 18 months. So it takes awhile. Some people, after a year, they bottle it and sell it to whoever they sell it to. But mine will be in the barrels for anywhere between 18 and 24 months.

OMC: And what do you call your wine?

CW: It's called Twenty Four, by Charles Woodson -- 24 being my number in Oakland, which is when I got interested in wine. And the 24 is spelled out and we put my name on the label so we didn't run into any issues with the television show "24."

OMC: That'd be an interesting wine if they based one on the TV show. The bottle would explode or something. How many of your teammates have tried your wine?

CW: Nobody here has tried it yet. Everything is in Napa Valley now, so whenever I travel places, I have to have it shipped. Then I do the tasting there or whatever.

OMC: So how often are you in Napa?

CW: I've only been there once this year, but I'm usually there two or three times during the off-season.

OMC: So I have to ask -- do you take pride in being this team's resident renaissance man? From elevating the level of the way your teammates dress up on game days to the scholarship endowments to the wine business, you sure seem to bring a different type of class to the locker room.

CW: What I take pride in is in always being myself. Whether I'm in Oakland or Atlanta or Houston or Green Bay or Michigan -- wherever I'm at, I'm always going to be myself. And I feel like I'm a very positive person, I feel like I'm a person that people want to be around.

Everybody has their perceptions of a person until you get to know them. Anybody who I allow to get to know me, knows that. I'm just going to be myself at all costs. One thing I understand about this game, I've been blessed to make it this far. A lot of people don't. And a lot of people who do, as soon as their careers are over, their life is in a frenzy. They don't have anywhere to go, they don't have anything to do, they spent all their career focusing only on football and don't know how to do anything else. When I came into the league, I didn't know what direction I was going to go in, but I knew that I wasn't going to let that be the case.

OMC: The first two years in Green Bay, you didn't come to a single OTA practice. What changed? Is this an indicator of how you feel about this place, that you're actually here?

CW: You know, things evolve. They either evolve for the better or they evolve for the worse. And my time here has been good. Of course, I've said all along that the transition was a little rocky at first. Just because I'm coming from a totally different place. It was a little rough, but once I got to know people and people got to know me. Either you like me or you don't like me, but I'm going to be myself. So once that part of it got out of the way and people started to watch me play football, a few people know what I do business-wise, things started to smooth out a little bit.

OMC: What made it so rough to begin with?

CW: I probably made it rough -- just myself.

OMC: Why? You wanted to do your own thing?

CW: I'm ALWAYS going to do my own thing. And I'm just one of those people who, I'm not going to just do something. I need to know why I'm being told to do something. I am one of those people. That's the truth.

And if I don't think it's right, I'm definitely not going to do it. So it doesn't matter if you're the coach or whatever, if that's not what I feel ... especially if I know it ain't right, then of course we're going to have problems. When I first got here, those instances came up. Just practice and how I feel something should work and how it shouldn't work. I'm not a very vocal person, but if I don't like something and I'm a part of it, I have to say something.

OMC: And now, that's changed?

CW: It's just changed because now people know me and they know what to expect -- and I know what to expect from them.

OMC: So have you found an unlikely home here? I know when you were on the free-agent market and the Packers were the only team really interested in you, you did not want to come here.

CW: Initially, I couldn't believe I was here. I signed the contract, and that part of it was done, the money part of it was done, but then I actually got here and I was like, 'How the hell did I end up in Green Bay?' (laughs) But it's been a blessing. The last place I ever thought I'd be, the last place I told people I'd ever play. I'm here. And it's probably been probably the best thing that's happened to me since I've been in the league. I guess it's true -- the Lord works in mysterious ways. I'm here, and it's all good.

Jason Wilde Special to

Jason Wilde, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Greendale Martin Luther High School and the University of Wisconsin, is a two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award winner.

His daily coverage can be found on the State Journal's Web site and through his Packers blog on