By Jerry McDonald
When Rod Woodson signed with the Raiders in 2002, he told himself to be patient.
Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Charles Woodson were already on the roster. Bill Romanowski had arrived through free agency. All had Pro Bowl resumes and even bigger personalities.
"I didn't want to step on any toes," Rod Woodson said.
Surely, someone would tap into the knowledge that would make Woodson an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So Woodson waited.
He got exactly one request, and it came one season later.
Nnamdi Asomugha, whom the Raiders drafted in the first round in 2003, had done his research. He was a safety learning how to play cornerback and discovered that Rod Woodson had gone from college safety at Purdue to rookie cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Everyone was telling me he was a guy you could talk to and don't shy away from it," Asomugha said. "Finally I just went up to him and asked, 'Are there any tips you can give to me?'""
Saturday, Woodson gave an acceptance speech in Canton, Ohio, and Asomugha is at the pinnacle of his profession, the highest-paid cornerback in football.
Woodson can barely conceal his pride when he assesses what Asomugha has become.
"Nnamdi is the best corner in the game," Woodson said. "Hands down. Purest corner in the game."
The quote elicits a laugh from Asomugha, who is aware Woodson feels that way but hasn't heard it directly from the source.
"He wouldn't say that to me, but I hear it from other people that Rod has said that," Asomugha said. "He continues to help me because he sees something there, but if I heard that from him I don't think I'd believe it."
Instead, Woodson's evaluations are brutally frank and short on hearts and flowers.
"It never changes," Asomugha said. "He'll kill me. We played Denver in Denver in 2007, and I thought I'd played a good game. Broke up a touchdown, made some plays. He called me up and said, 'You're still not doing the things you need to do to get to the next level.'
"He went on for five minutes and then finally says, 'Just keep playing well.' It always works. It's tough love."
Woodson counseled Asomugha in 2003 as the Raiders disintegrated to 4-12 and his own career came to a close because of a knee injury.
"One of the first things I noticed was that he still took notes. Here's a 16-year veteran going to the Hall of Fame, and he's still taking notes," Asomugha said. "I asked him why he did it, and he said you must take notes to maintain your level of play."
In 2004, with Woodson having retired, Asomugha struggled and was starting at the end of the season only because of injuries to Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon. Then the Raiders drafted Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt in the first two rounds of the 2005 draft.
"I wouldn't say it was panic, but I questioned what the coaches and Mr. Davis (owner Al) were thinking of me and how long I was going to be there," Asomugha said.
Asomugha reached Woodson, who gave him his cell phone number and e-mail address. Woodson invited Asomugha to his home in Pleasanton, where they watched game film.
"I would come over routinely and have him break me down," Asomugha said. "He told me what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong. He showed me offenses and told me what was getting ready to happen."
Gradually, Asomugha absorbed the lessons and came back for more.
"I asked him about formations, about what he was looking at when he was watching film," Woodson said. "My message was to believe in your abilities, don't make it too hard on yourself and understand that sometimes what the coaches say isn't always the right thing to do on the field. You're the one who's going to get caught on the bad end of an ESPN highlight. Take in the meat, spit out the bone."
Woodson will keep talking as long as Asomugha wants to listen.
"You don't get it that often anymore with young players, with the money so readily available," Woodson said. "Nnamdi was the one guy in Oakland who wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to get it."