By: Christopher Price
July 28, 2005

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The Patriots' linebacking corps, once thought to be deeper than a Greek philosopher, has lost another sturdy veteran.

Eight days after Tedy Bruschi said he would not play this year because of a mild stroke -- and the day veterans were scheduled to begin training camp -- linebacker Ted Johnson announced his retirement yesterday because of the concussion scares he has suffered over the course of his career.

"It is with deep regret that I have decided to retire from football," Johnson said in a statement issued by the team. "The decision was not an easy one, but life sometimes has a time-table all its own. ... I can no longer ignore the severe short- and long-term complications of the concussive head injuries I have sustained over the years."

Later in the day, he expanded on his medical problems. In a conference call, he explained that he had met with his personal doctor over the offseason, saying "something didn't feel right" with his body.

"The closer I got to camp, the more I started feeling my body was telling me something and I just couldn't ignore the evidence," Johnson said late yesterday. "I apologized to coach [Bill] Belichick for the timing."

It is a big loss for New England, both on and off the field. The 32-year-old Johnson was taken in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft out of Colorado, and the 6-foot-4, 253-pound linebacker started 106 of 125 regular season games from 1995 through 2004. He was credited with 865 career tackles and 11 1/2 sacks over the course of his career, and was a key part of all three title teams -- including last season, when he posted 112 regular-season tackles, good for third on the team.

However, there were plenty of injury scares for him. Johnson's straight-ahead style -- when healthy, he was one of the league's premier run-stoppers -- resulted in roughly six concussions over the course of his career.

"There's a lot of time when I had to get my bearings and get my sight back to be able to call a play," he told reporters on the conference call. "I could still play, but I open myself up to some potentially very damaging long-term health issues."

Off the field, his loss will be felt as well. There were few players in the locker room who were as respected as Johnson was. He was one of a handful of players who called themselves "the four-timers," because they had appeared in four Super Bowls -- including the Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers -- with the Patriots. It was a group that included Bruschi, fellow linebacker Willie McGinest, wide receiver Troy Brown and kicker Adam Vinatieri.

"Ted was a pillar in the organization," McGinest said. "He helped me out and definitely made it easier for me out on the field. It was a surprise for us and sad to see a guy like that go."

"Everybody always talks about how good of an inside linebacker he was and how hard he was to block," Brown said. "He's just been a tremendous player for us over the years."

"He was a heck of a team leader and a truly great, great football player," said Vinatieri, who was a teammate of Johnson's for nine seasons. "When you think of football, you think of Ted Johnson. He will be missed."

"Ted informed me of his decision today and we had a good discussion," Belichick said in a statement issued by the team. "Although his retirement is unexpected, we thoroughly respect his decision and support him as he moves on.

"It goes without saying, but Ted Johnson is a class act," Belichick added. "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."

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and Boston Sports Review. He can be reached at capeleaguer@hotmail.com.


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