February 3, 2015
by Marty Caswell
All because of Chargers’ Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick, who officially announced his retirement after an 11-year career at a packed 9:30 AM press conference at Chargers park on Tuesday.
Nattily dressed in a casual black suit, Hardwick addressed a completely packed room that included the Chargers entire front office, owner Dean Spanos, teammates Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, Mike Scifres, Darrell Stuckey and Nick Novak, as well as former teammates Kris Dielman and Mike Goff.
“To the city, to the fans, to all Chargers nation, thank you. What a party this has been, this has been the time of my life, it’s been the absolute pleasure of my life. Qualcomm stadium, every stadium has their own unique feel. Qualcomm is a party. That place is so incredibly fun. When it is rocking in there, it cannot be beat.”
“The Hardwick family was built on hard work, toughness and respect and I hope I’ve shown that. You fight for the name on your front, you fight for the Spanos family, you fight for the Chargers but you also fight for the name on your back. I hope I’ve made everyone back home proud.”
Hardwick spoke for nine minutes to a captive audience in the same manner in which he played, passionately and with heart. He started off by thanking the media, the fans, the guys in the equipment room, the training staff, the video room. He thanked his coaches for pushing him, making him a better leader. He thanked the two men responsible for drafting him, A.J. Smith and Buddy Nix.
He thanked his lovely wife Jaymee, college sweethearts since they attended Purdue. And he struggled momentarily to find his composure, as he thanked his parents back in Iowa.
“The biggest thank you, of course, goes to my fellow teammates. Everyone I’ve played with through all the years. Football’s a scary game. For me it was a scary game. I don’t know how everyone else viewed the game but for me it was a really scary game. For me to do it for 11 years, I had to lean on a lot of people…I’m forever grateful for my teammates.”
Hardwick singled out three teammates he was especially close with, Kris Dielman, the recently retired Jeromy Clary and the quarterback he entered the league with back in 2004.
“Philip Rivers, I love you. I’m forever indebted to you. My career will be stamped with your career and I’m thankful for that, that you let me ride your wake a little bit. This city has a heck of a man and a quarterback. When I’m asked to describe Philip, I describe him as a saint because he’s so pure of heart. Everything about him is so incredibly pure and passionate and it’s just raw and I love you. I’m thankful for you and thanks for letting me be a part of this with you.”
It wasn’t the adrenaline of game day, running onto the field and having his named called as fireworks exploded about on a prime time game or bus rides to and from a game that Hardwick said he’d miss the most about retiring from the NFL. It was something simple that really defines who Hardwick was.
“There’s a lot I’m going to miss about it. I’m going to miss leading men, I’m going to miss being around a team, working with a team and having that support network, that accountability that pushes you beyond your comfort zone that allows you to do greater things than you ever thought possible.”
“The one thing I loved about football more than anything was sitting in the meeting room. Practice was fun, I always enjoyed going to practice, pulling my pants down, doing something wild. Being in the locker room was a blast, game day was so much fun but I loved the meeting room more than anything and that’s where Philip and I spent a ton of time. Just picking apart film and that’s kind of where I got to nerd out. Really that’s what I was in to, the X’s and O’s, figuring out who was coming on which blitz, how am I going to attack the opponent that I don’t think I can block and I think that’s why I’ve had such a successful career. I spent so much time in that room because it was my favorite part and that’s what I’m going to miss.”
Rivers for his part, was unable to keep his emotions in check as he discussed what his long time center and best friend on the team meant to him, quipping he had no chance of keeping it together.
“I’ve never been around a guy that knew everybody’s name. I mean everybody’s name. And that was because he cared. And I think that’s what I’ll appreciate most is how genuine and how much he cared about everybody.”
“As far as on the field, the meeting rooms, that is where we spent our most time and I really am confident in saying, you can’t really guarantee too many things but I’m pretty confident in saying as a quarterback and center, there is nobody in the NFL that ever, and will ever, I believe, work as hard on protections as we did. And he would study every little thing to try and figure where the blitz was coming from and we would build it Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday.”
“ And by Friday we’d say ‘ah, we got em wired.’ And there’s no better feeling than on Sunday afternoons when here came the blitz and he and I saw it together and we orchestrated the protection and we picked it up and convert and 3rd down and there’s 70,000 fans screaming and there’s linemen running to the line and there’s people everywhere and he and I would make eye contact and just kind of point like, yeah! We got them! And it was just that special bond in that football aspect that I really don’t know that can be duplicated. And that part, from an on the field standing and in the meetings rooms I will miss the most.”
“I think I speak for every teammate he’s ever had and the teammates that are currently here that we’ll really miss Nick the football player, but we’ll miss Nick the person for sure, the most. I love you man.”
It remains to be seen if Chris Watt, one of four different centers that filled in for Hardwick after his week one injury, is tabbed as his heir apparent but Hardwick asked for patience and support for the next man up in his closing comments.
“Thank you everyone but it’s time to step aside and let someone else have their fun. Give the next guy who’s in here the patience, the love, the support that he needs to grow into the man and the player that he wants to become. Let these men fulfill their dreams in front of you. Support them, love them, and to the city, get behind this team. They need you so badly. I love you all, thank you for the time, it’s been a blast.”
When all was said and done and the accolades and heartfelt emotions were shared, it may have been Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, with an extremely rare public show of emotion, that summed it up best.
“The way I’m acting now, it’s because guys like this don’t come around very often. They don’t.”
They most certainly don’t. It’s one thing to have good or even great players. The Chargers, Philip Rivers, fans and media were graced for 11 years with someone who is becoming increasingly rare in this business- an extraordinary human being. And that is truly irreplaceable.
Thank you, Nick Hardwick.
Nick Hardwick on his Retirement, Philip Rivers on why he meant so much
Who Knows Philip Rivers better? His wife or Nick Hardwick?
“Jamal Williams 100% made me the player I am in a hurry. He was a terrifying man. I threw up every practice before I had to block Jamal. I didn’t know if I could do it. He was 360 pounds of muscle with a low center gravity and great technique. I had to hone my skills in a hurry just to get through practice and not be embarrassed. And so I’m grateful to Jamal. ” Nick Hardwick on the player that had the greatest impact early in his career.
Nick Hardwick on his bond with Philip Rivers, impact of Jamal Williams & what he learned from Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner and Mike McCoy