Amid his many, obvious emotions, with his family in from Georgia flanking him and his Seahawks’ teammates and coaches packing the auditorium inside team headquarters, Ricardo Lockette nailed why these guys risk their health and at times their lives to play in the NFL.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Am I sad what happened to me?’” the 29-year-old wide receiver and special-teams ace said Thursday while announcing him retirement forced by a career-ending hit and surgery that fused his neck back together and leaves him with Titanium rods in there.
“No,” Lockette said, “because I'm a dog.
“You live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
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That was after the video tribute the Seahawks produced and showed. And it was before Lockette spoke with his parents Earl and Felita, brother Earl, Jr. and girlfriend Jamaica at his side.
As impressive as Lockette was speeding down fields and being the first Seahawks to blast returners for the last three years, he was even more impressive in discussing his retirement.
His coach thought so, too.
“Ricardo will always be known as one of the great competitors and great spirits in our program. As he showed you again today, he's just a unique, extraordinary kid,” Seattle’s Pete Carroll said. “He just loved to be around the building. Anyone who knows him, he's just an amazing kid. And he was so talented, and so raw, early on that it took him a while to get it going. But once he was able to channel this wonderful ability and wonderful spirit, he became a magnificent part of our team. He's a guy we will always miss. We really won't replace him, he's such a unique player. So few guys play that fast and play that tough. He's been an extraordinary kid.
“We miss the fact that he's not with us right now. But we will be here to support him and he'll be able to support us forever. ... He has an extraordinary heart. He’ll be an MVP in whatever he does.”
Lockette feared he might die while laying on the field in Arlington, Texas, Nov. 1. That was Dallas’ Jeff Heath crushed him with a blind-side hit in the open field on a punt.
He said he spoke with Heath that night, while he was in Baylor Medical Center in Dallas awaiting neck surgery that ended his football days. Lockette said he has no hard feelings towards Heath, that he told him he was “a warrior” and encouraged him to “keep on doing what you do.”
He said his decision to retire ultimately was not difficult.
“No, because I love my family,” he said. “And I'd rather walk.”
He was wearing a tan suit over a light-blue dress shirt that covered much of the large surgical scar from his head to his upper back. He said the two rods in his neck make him unable to lift heavy items or “play sports with my kids.”
“No roller coasters,” he added with a grin.
He described his remarkable journey from community college in Alabama to sleeping in his car for three nights feeling like a flop for failing in his long-shot bid in 2008 to make the Olympics in track He was a 200-meter national Division-II champion at Fort Valley State, tried football, then entered the NFL in 2011 with Seattle as an undrafted free agent who was raw -- but fast and determined.
Three teams -- the Seahawks, 49ers and Bears -- cut him four times. Yet he came back to be on the practice squad for San Francisco’s Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season, then won one playing for the Seahawks the following season. If New England’s Malcolm Butler hadn’t cut off Lockette’s slant route at the goal line and intercepted Russell Wilson’s last-second pass to end Super Bowl 49, the out-of-nowhere track runner from small Albany, Georgia, would have won two consecutive rings.
Carroll then told Lockette going to three consecutive Super Bowls is akin to going to the corner store to play the lottery three consecutive days -- and winning all three days.
Lockette thanked team senior director of player development Maurice Kelly for preparing him for life after football, financially, socially and pragmatically. It’s the side of the NFL the fame, the championships, the money and the cheering fans forget -- but it’s the real-life side of a profession in which the average life span of a player is but 3.3 seasons.
“From Day One,” Lockette said, “he is preparing us to leave.”
He earned $1.71 million the last three seasons, plus that Super Bowl championship and a bond with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin was the teammate sitting closest to Lockette as he spoke, and it sure looked Thursday like their friendship will last far beyond this most impressive retirement announcement.
Lockette said that he may want to stay around football. But he spoke far more eloquently and earnestly about wanting to help disadvantaged children who are constantly being told no, helping the homeless -- especially, he said, women who are in shelters with children.
The day he got out of the hospital in Dallas in November, Lockette say homeless on the streets of Dallas, went to a nearby burger shop and returned to pass out food for everyone there.
When Thursday’s press conference like few others ended, Lockette raised his right hand and formed an “L” with his index finger and thumb. That’s the same sign he gave while tied to the stretcher that took him off that Cowboys field and straight to the hospital in Dallas, surgery and retirement. It’s for “LOB, Love Our Brothers.”
He family saw him do that, and they did it, too, right there on the podium. The Seahawks players, coaches and staffers roared some more.
"It's not a sad day. Life goes on,” Lockette said, a fact he wasn’t sure of immediately after that fateful hit.
“I wanted to make my family proud. And I think I've done that."