Originally created 01/25/03

Woodson, James will play Super Bowl on broken legs



SAN DIEGO -- Charles Woodson still possesses the grit of a four-time Pro Bowler, though some other things have changed.

He plays on one good leg for the Oakland Raiders; the other is held together by a titanium plate and a few screws.

Woodson and cornerback Tory James broke their legs during the season - a potentially devastating coincidence for the Raiders' title hopes. But protective plates inserted in their legs last month allowed them to play all the way to the Super Bowl.

The Raiders hope Sunday's game won't depend on their limping cornerbacks, but if it does, they say they're ready.

"I was going to do whatever it took to stay in the game," Woodson said. "I know I'm not back to where I need to be, but I'm doing well enough to be out there. I wasn't going to give up and go on (injured reserve) unless I broke both my legs."

It's been a trying season for Woodson, who made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four NFL seasons. The Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan was an elite cornerback almost from his first pro game, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy during the Raiders' run to a division title and his first Super Bowl.

He missed five games earlier this season with a broken right shoulder, and he broke his leg in the Raiders' win over the Jets on Dec. 2. He missed three games, but after seeing how quickly James returned following surgery to insert the plate, Woodson had it done on Christmas Eve.

He was back for Oakland's playoff rematch with the Jets on Jan. 12.

"It hurts. It's frustrating," Woodson said. "But there's only one game left, and I can find a way to get through. I'll be fine."

He appeared strong in the Raiders' first playoff game, but the Tennessee Titans exploited his injury in the AFC title game. Woodson was hit with two pass-interference calls, including a 34-yarder, and he was dusted by receiver Drew Bennett on a touchdown catch in the first quarter.

"It's a concern, but we think they're both in good enough shape to keep playing," Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. "It's one of those things that you hope won't become an issue. If we didn't think Charles could compete, we wouldn't have him out there.

"Charles Woodson at less than 100 percent is better than a lot of people at 100 percent, you know."

James missed two December games and played sparingly in a third following his surgery on Dec. 9, but he started both playoff games. When Woodson is healthy, most opponents attack James' side of the field. But while Woodson still appears to be hobbling, James seems closer to full strength.

"We have a great training staff, and I think the doctors did an amazing job with both me and Woodson," James said. "We wanted it enough to be in this game. When they told me it would be a one-to-three-week injury, I couldn't believe it."

The Raiders desperately need Woodson and James in the lineup. Defensive back Phillip Buchanon's promising rookie season ended when he was put on injured reserve with a broken left wrist, and Oakland's depth in the secondary has remained thin ever since. Journeymen Terrance Shaw and Clarence Love back up the starters.

Oakland doesn't allow its team doctors to talk about injuries, but titanium implants allow more weight to be carried by the bones. They work best on stable fractures that would normally be treated with a cast or a boot.

The plates often are permanent, but they're usually not big enough to set off airport metal detectors.

"Charles and Tory are able to do most of the things we require of them," said Garrett Giemont, the Raiders' strength and conditioning coach. "We keep them fresh during the week. They're completely focused on the games right now."