A tearful Mike Rucker said goodbye to football Tuesday, retiring from the Carolina Panthers as the team's second-leading tackler and one of the franchise's most beloved players.
...Carolina Panthers' defensive end Mike Rucker, right, announces his retirement from professional foootball after his nine year career with the Panthers as team owner Jerry Richardson, left, looks on during a news conference at Bank of America stadium on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 in Charlotte, N.C.
...Carolina Panthers' defensive end Mike Rucker wipes his eyes as he announces his retirement after his nine year career with the Panthers at a news conference at Bank of America stadium on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 in Charlotte, N.C.
...Carolina Panthers' defensive end Mike Rucker announces his retirement after his nine year career with the Panthers at a news conference on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 in Charlotte, N.C.
...this Nov. 11, 2007 file photo shows Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker before an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Rucker will retire after nine seasons, finishing second on the team's all-time tackles list.Rucker
will announce his
retirement at news conference at Bank of America Stadium later Tuesday April 22, 2008, a team official said.
The defensive end broke down several times as he
thanked scores of people, from owner Jerry Richardson and coach John Fox to the trainers, security staff and equipment managers he
befriended after spending all nine seasons of his
career in Charlotte.
"I just want you to know that I gave you everything I got," Rucker
wife, gripping tissues, watched from the front row as Rucker
reversed a decision made 10 weeks ago when he
announced plans to play for at least one more season.
"One of the hardest things to do is to not be in those trenches with my boys," Rucker
said it became apparent that his
body was spent after years of chasing down quarterbacks and running into 300-pound offensive linemen.
"I'm done.I have to let it go," Rucker
, who played college football at Nebraska, was Carolina's second-round pick in 1999.At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Rucker
had the combination of size and quickness that made him one of the anchors of the Panthers' defensive line.Rucker
helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl in the 2003 season and the NFC championship game in 2005, and he
ranks second in the team's 13-year history with 553 tackles and 55 1/2 sacks.He
was also involved in numerous off-field charitable activities and business interests in the Charlotte area, including a day-care center he
opened several years ago.Rucker
suffered the first major injury of his
pro career, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his
left knee, near the end of the 2006 season.Determined to stay in the game, Rucker
underwent a grueling rehabilitation and was back on the field for the start of training camp seven months later.Rucker
got off to a slow start last season, but his
numbers picked up once he
shed the bulky brace on his
returned to his
starting spot on the defensive line and finished with 57 tackles and three sacks.Rucker
started wondering if he
was close to retirement near the end of last season, having played for the year without his
close friend, safety Mike Minter, who had retired during training camp.Rucker
was in tears after what turned out to be his
final home game in December, but he
told reporters he
would wait a couple of months before making a final decision on his
said in February his
body felt good and he
planned to play in 2008.Rucker
also wanted to be in the NFL with his
younger brother, Martin, a tight end from Missouri expected to be taken in this weekend's NFL draft.
But Carolina, looking to get younger on the defensive line after being next-to-last in the NFL with 23 sacks in 2007, chose not to re-sign Rucker
.Third in team history with 139 games played, Rucker
started to question whether he
wanted to try to play for another team.He
brother of his
decision Tuesday morning.
"I just told him that I loved him and I'm passing the baton to him," Rucker
But it was clear from the tears in the eyes of Richardson, Fox and the numerous other employees that it will take a long time to replace Rucker
within the franchise.