DENVER Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning were in the New York City spotlight together for the first time on Dec. 13, 1997, at the Downtown Athletic Club, and they shared a green room four months later at Madison Square Garden for the NFL draft.
Woodson won the Heisman Trophy, but Manning was the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals were up next and are forever regretting their decisions to take quarterback Ryan Leaf and defensive end Andre Wadsworth with the Raiders taking Woodson at No. 4.
The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.03, and current Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski was 9 years old.
"It's amazing they're not only still playing the game, but that they're both still great," Wisniewski said.
Woodson and Manning meet again tonight when the Raiders visit the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field, only the fifth time two of the most respected and decorated players in the sport will share the field in a regular-season game.
In terms of the scoreboard, Woodson was 2-1 against Manning as a Raider and 1-0 as a Packer, although he had no interceptions or forced turnovers in any game of those games.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, a first-time head coach in 1998 when Woodson was a rookie with Gruden's Raiders and Manning with the Colts, called it an "honor" to be associated with meeting No. 5.
"You can't find two more distinguished careers," Gruden said.
They were almost teammates this season, with Woodson visiting the Broncos, which included a conversation with Manning. When Denver's contract offer didn't measure up, Woodson flew to Oakland for a hero's welcome and a one-year deal he deemed satisfactory.
"You can't blame us for trying," Denver coach John Fox said on a conference call. "When you're a free agent, it's all business. If you ask Charles, I'm sure the allure of coming back to the team that drafted him was exciting."
Manning, 37, has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions in two games, building on a comeback season during which he led the Broncos to an AFC West title after he parted amicably with the Indianapolis Colts following neck surgery.
"He's the best of the best. He's seen everything, and he probably watches more film than anybody else," Woodson said. "He's going to know what to look for when he walks up to the line."
Woodson, 36, saved a touchdown in last week's 19-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars by leaping over a blocker to stop Maurice Jones-Drew. He was released by the Green Bay Packers, who balked at paying a $9 million salary.
"Sixteen years as a defensive back in this league, that alone is special," Manning said by conference call. "You take how well Charles has played corner, he's excellent in the nickel, he's played some safety. It shows his versatility. What happens to most guys is they lose a step, but he hasn't done that at all."
The effect of bringing in a probable first-ballot Hall of Fame player has paid dividends for the Raiders and Broncos.
Cornerback Tracy Porter was in Denver last season when Manning arrived and joined the Raiders this offseason when Woodson signed with the team that drafted him after seven seasons with the Packers.
"They both have championships. They both put up numbers. Their track record speaks for itself," Porter said. "When one of those guys walks into a room, it speaks volumes. Everyone wants to hear what they have to say. Everyone looks at them as a leader because they've been in the league so long. They know what to say, they know what to do, they know their way around the league. They know how to lead a team."
Manning's style is to seize control of the offense, with everything running through him. If he's not satisfied in practice, or if the defense gets the better of the offense, the play is run again on Manning's say-so, Porter said.
Woodson is more inclined to let players come to him for advice, and it's happened so often he could use a corner office instead of a locker.
"He exudes that swagger he has, and all his teammates feel it," Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said.