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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