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Rod Woodson, to no one’s surprise, is among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2009.

If Woodson were somehow a borderline candidate, I’d fill this space arguing his credentials for the Hall. Fortunately, that’s not necessary. He’s a 100-percent-guaranteed lock for first-ballot enshrinement. The short version: Woodson was a deadly kick returner early in his career, and good enough at cornerback to make the NFL’s elite 75th anniversary team (along with Night Train Lane, Mel Blount and Mike Haynes). In terms of game speed, he was about as fast as anyone in the league.

Then Woodson suffered a devastating knee injury in 1995. It would have signaled the end of a career for most speed-position players. Woodson, after trying to stick at corner for a couple seasons, simply moved to safety and became one of the game’s best during stints with the 49ers, Ravens and Raiders.

By the time I started covering the Raiders in 2003, Woodson was at the end of his NFL road. He spent much of that season injured. But even then, at 38, he was probably the Raiders’ best defender (DT Rod Coleman would have been his only competition) when healthy.

I would be rooting for Woodson based solely upon his accomplishments. But I have to admit my interest goes beyond the facts.

That was a strange year in Oakland. OK, every year is strange in Aldavistan, but that one was particularly nasty. Bill Romanowski punched teammate Marcus Williams and shattered his orbital socket before the season even started. Charles Woodson later ignited a player revolt against coach Bill Callahan, who seemed to seethe more violently with the passing of each game. Months after playing in the Super Bowl, the Raiders fell apart. They were old and hurt and played like “the dumbest team in America.”

Needless to say, it was not a happy locker room that year. In fact, by late in the season it was a nearly empty locker room, a daunting environment for a first-year beat writer.

But there was one reliable constant throughout the season: Rod Woodson. He was hurt and not playing, so he had no duty to talk to reporters about the team’s travails and game plans. But he did. Week after week. Many of the Raiders’ rookies and third-stringers couldn’t be bothered to face the media that year. But there was the future Hall of Famer, patiently and thoughtfully answering all sorts of questions, giving us all some information to pass along to fans.

That’s another reason I’ll be happy for Woodson when he enters the Hall of Fame in August.

Too bad Ray Guy won’t be joining him ” but that’s a blog entry for another day.

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The links are on me…

The Raiders now lack an offensive coordinator to report to their lack of a head coach. Like most other Californians, Greg Knapp is bound for Seattle.

Jim Harbaugh and the Raiders insist they’re not getting married, but the persistent rumors appear to be hurting Harbaugh’s recruiting at Stanford.

You know this is a vicious rivalry when the Raiders are mentioned twice at Carl Peterson’s farewell press conference as Chiefs president.

Lane Kiffin confidant Mark Jackson is returning to USC. No word yet on Kiffin’s brother-in-law, who was forcibly removed from the Raiders’ copy room.

Kiffin mockingly referred to tackle Mario Henderson as “Super Mario.” The folks at Lehigh High School in Florida take the nickname seriously.

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