Johnson played 10 seasons in the NFL

Updated: July 28, 2005, 9:36 PM ET
Associated Press

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The blurred vision, the memory loss and the sleeplessness were too much for Ted Johnson to ignore. So he gave up the game he loves, retiring from the New England Patriots rather than risk irreparable brain damage.

Ted Johnson
New England Patriots
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
78 56 22 1 1 0

Johnson's surprise announcement came Thursday, the day before he was to start his 11th NFL training camp, all with the Patriots. It followed by eight days the decision by the other starting inside linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, to sit out the season following his minor stroke last February.

Johnson said he was diagnosed with about six concussions during his football career and fought through their effects. But a visit to his personal doctor after last season led to his decision.

"Something didn't feel right with my body, really, this whole offseason," Johnson said. His doctor found "enough evidence to have serious concerns for some head trauma."

A brain MRI didn't show anything "too bad" and he didn't consider his condition with "any real urgency, but (the doctor) pushed me and pushed me."

So the father of four decided the long-term risk outweighed a few more years of playing a game he had been in since he was 14. He informed coach Bill Belichick on Thursday, the day veterans joined rookies at training camp to undergo physicals and the conditioning run. The first full-squad practices are Friday.

"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. "I apologized to coach Belichick for the timing."

While Belichick must find someone to take Johnson's position, he praised the hard-hitting run stopper.

"Although his retirement is unexpected, we thoroughly respect his decision and support him as he moves on," Belichick said. "Ted's signature was a work ethic and toughness that were second to none. He retires a champion."

Johnson, 32, was on the Patriots' three Super Bowl-winning teams in the last four seasons and also played for New England in the Super Bowl won by Green Bay in 1997.

The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Johnson started 106 of 125 regular-season games and was credited with 865 tackles and 11{ sacks.

In 2003, concussions limited him to eight games and two starts. But last season he started 15 of the 16 regular-season games and played in all three playoff games. His 112 regular-season tackles were his most in six years.

"After the season, I just felt like I was really putting myself at risk by playing again," Johnson said. "There could be irreparable damage."

Without Johnson and Bruschi, the top inside linebackers for the team that allowed the second fewest points in the NFL last year are Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Both signed in the offseason as free agents, but Brown has battled injuries and Beisel started the first game of his four NFL seasons last year. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel also played inside during minicamp.

"It would be hard for me to bet against any coach Belichick team," Johnson said. "I think we're going to be just fine."

The Patriots also may need a replacement, at least temporarily, for defensive end Richard Seymour. He could stay away from camp in a contract dispute just as he did for last month's minicamp.

Seymour has two years remaining on a $14.3 million deal he signed in 2001 after being drafted in the first round and he wants it renegotiated. His attorney, Eugene Parker, did not return a call seeking comment.

Johnson and Bruschi were two of the Patriots' top three tacklers last season and two of their four most senior players.

Johnson had an injury-plagued career after the Patriots drafted him in the second round out of Colorado in 1995. The concussions finally ended it.

"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 said. "I could still play, but I open myself up to some potentially very damaging long-term health issues."

His physical style of meeting blocks head-on didn't help.

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

"Ted was a pillar in the organization," outside linebacker Willie 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."

For Johnson, the decision was "very difficult," but in the end football wasn't the most important thing.

"At the end of the day, when I look at my wife and my four kids," he said, "those are the most important things to me."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press