More than two decades ago, Charles Woodson beat out Peyton Manning for a prestigious award during their college days. Something called the Heisman Trophy.
They're likely about to share an even more impressive honor for the sport to which they devoted so much of their lives: entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Manning and Woodson were college stars at Tennessee and Michigan, respectively, who went on to become two of the most dominant players at their positions in the NFL from 1998 until their retirements in early 2016. Now they are among four first-year-eligible finalists for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, and Manning and Woodson are among the leading contenders for induction among all those up for consideration in 2021.
Hall announcements will be part of the NFL Honors Show at 9 p.m. Saturday on CBS — which will also televise Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) at 6:30 p.m. Sunday — a ceremony during which The Associated Press will also announce its award winners for the 2020 season.
Manning and Woodson made the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, and they carried their prolific production into the next decade. The only five-time league MVP, Manning quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts to two Super Bowls, winning one, and then took the Denver Broncos to two more, winning one.
"Peyton was someone I always admired as a quarterback, as a leader of the team," said Tom Brady, in his first year with Tampa Bay after winning six Super Bowl titles in 20 seasons with the New England Patriots.
"Peyton and I are right around the same age. I always looked up to Peyton; he always was doing things the right way. An amazing player, he took so much on. Like any great quarterback, there is a lot of responsibility you take on, make sure everything is a reflection of how you see the game. When everybody is seeing it through the same eyes, it is a great way to play a football game. The coaches ... they had so much trust in Peyton to get things right, and he always did."
Woodson was a cornerback for his first 14 pro seasons — he was the 1998 defensive rookie of the year and the overall defensive player of the year for 2009 — before reinventing himself as a safety. He lost a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders and won one with the Green Bay Packers.
Woodson told SiriusXM NFL Radio a spot in Canton would mean "job well done. Going out and playing the game I loved for so many years and giving it everything I had, you have to go through a lot. But each time I went out and gave it everything I had, no matter what the outcome. If I hear that, it will mean job well done, and that is all I need.
"I just wanted to be a great football player. I wanted to win championships, and I was able to accomplish a lot and had a lot of fun along the way. The game of football is like life and how do you bounce back, and I feel like I bounced back every time."
The other first-year eligible players under consideration are former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson — a college star at Georgia Tech — and sack master Jared Allen, who played for four NFL teams.
Johnson, with the memorable nickname of "Megatron" and an even more memorable mix of power, speed and grace, made the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s. Allen finished his career with 136 career sacks and led the league in 2011 with 22, just a half-sack short of Michael Strahan's NFL record.
Since 2005, there have been at least two first-year eligible players elected 11 times. Only five modern-day players can be inducted per class, and in 2013, '18 and '19, three of them were new to eligibility. Some were slam dunks: Jonathan Ogden ('13), Ray Lewis and Randy Moss ('18) and Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed ('19).
The 2021 candidates make for a loaded field, though. So while five modern-day players certainly should make it, their identities are uncertain — perhaps beyond Manning and Woodson.
Consider the other finalists:
— Three more defensive backs, including John Lynch, who is in his eighth year as a finalist. Ronde Barber is up for consideration for the first time and Leroy Butler for the second.
— Wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne, who was one of Manning's top targets with the Colts.
— Zach Thomas, who also excelled on special teams, is one of three linebackers among the finalists. He joins Clay Matthews Jr., who led some strong defenses for the Cleveland Browns from 1978-1993 before playing three season with the Atlanta Falcons, and the late Sam Mills, a star in the USFL and then the NFL.
— Offensive linemen Tony Boselli — the former Jacksonville Jaguars standout is a finalist for the fifth time — and Alan Faneca, who played guard and tackle and starred for three franchises and is being considered for the sixth time.
— Dependable defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who was a college star at Georgia, is in his third year of eligibility.
Previously announced candidates are coach Tom Flores, contributor Bill Nunn and former Dallas Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson, a senior finalist.
Inductions are scheduled for August, when the 2020 class and a special centennial class also will be enshrined after the coronavirus pandemic forced postponement of those ceremonies last summer.