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Johnson follows docs' advice, retires from football

FOXBOROUGH --Longtime Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson announced his retirement today, the day veterans reported to training camp for physicals and their annual conditioning test, citing the aftereffects of the many concussions he has suffered in his career.

‘‘I can no longer ignore the severe short- and long-term complications of the concussive head injuries I have sustained over the years,’’ Johnson, 32, said in a statement released by the team.

Johnson’s agent Jack Mills told the Globe that the 10-year veteran was not cleared by his doctors to play this season.

"Something didn't feel right with my body, really this whole offseason," Johnson said this afternoon. "I knew something didn't feel right and I couldn't figure out what it was. I went for a general physical ... what we found out what that there was enough evidence to have serious concerns."

Johnson underwent neurological testing at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2002, when despite being cleared to play by medical personnel after two concussions during the preseason, he still felt groggy.

‘‘He had been seeking medical opinion about whether he could continue to play, and the people that he talked to recommended that he not continue with football,’’ Mills said. ‘‘He decided to take the doctors’ advice.

‘‘It was a very difficult decision for him. He had an absolutely wonderful career. Very few people get to play as long as he did and enjoy the success, both team and individual, that he has had.’’

Johnson’s exit from the game comes eight days after fellow inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi decided to sit out the 2005 season as he recovers from a stroke suffered in the offseason. Teammates for the better part of a decade, the two first started together on defense in 1997. However, Johnson said that Bruschi's situation didn't influence his decision.

"It didn't really effect me in a direct way, maybe on a subconscious level," Johnson said. "I haven't felt well long before Tedy had his health issues."

Their departure means the Patriots enter this season without two of their top three tacklers from last year’s Super Bowl championship squad. Free agent signees Chad Brown and Monty Beisel should claim the inside linebacker spots in the Patriots 3-4 defense.

‘‘Although his retirement is unexpected, we thoroughly respect his decision and support him as he moves on,’’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ‘‘It goes without saying, but Ted Johnson is a class act. He was a solid contributor to this defense and the New England Patriots organization his entire career. Ted’s signature was a work ethic and toughness that were second to none. He retires a champion.’’

Johnson, the Patriots second-round pick out of Colorado in the 1995 draft, started every game he played in as a rookie and has been a fixture in the lineup, when healthy, ever since, finishing third on the squad in stops last season.

He suffered a host of injuries during his career. He missed 11 games in 1999 with a torn bicep, and eight contests during the 2001 campaign because of a broken foot.

He told the Globe in March that his list of injuries included the tearing of the other bicep, surgery on both shoulders, a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee, and the tearing of ‘‘every tendon imaginable.’’

‘‘Our body is our commodity,’’ he said. ‘‘What we sell to a football team is our body. If were not able to perform, what do we have to sell to a team?

‘‘Your health is everything. It’s vital to being of value to a football team.

‘‘(Injuries) knock you off your pedestal, humbles you. But life goes on.’’

In Thursday’s statement, Johnson thanked fans, coaches, teammates and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

‘‘Coming to New England 10 years ago gave me a lot more than the three Super Bowl rings I now own,’’ he said. ‘‘I also found my family here and a strong community that has welcomed me as one of its own.

‘‘I have forged strong friendships with many teammates past and present. I have had the honor of playing for some of the greatest coaches this game has ever known. I have enjoyed incredible support from the most passionate fans and had the opportunity to play a kid’s game, if only for a while. I will miss every bit of it.’’

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