Sources: Nalen's pro career over

Updated: January 6, 2009, 6:58 PM ET
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com

Longtime Denver Broncos center Tom Nalen, who hiked the ball to Broncos' legendary quarterback John Elway during the Broncos' two-year Super Bowl championship run and the team's last on-field link to the Super Bowls, is expected to retire, according to three NFL sources.

The decision is not official but it is the expected plan of the 37-year-old center. It is believed Nalen has yet to file his retirement papers but has begun the process.

The decision doesn't come as a surprise. Nalen hasn't played since October 2007. He spent the past 11 games of that season on injured reserve with a bicep issue. He missed all of 2008 with a knee injury. Nalen has lost several pounds in recent months and sources said he is no longer physically able to play.

He goes down as one of the team's all-time great players. A late draft pick and a former practice squad player, the Boston College product was a longtime star. He will be remembered as Elway's center during the Broncos' Super Bowl years and the anchor of the premier run-blocking offensive line in the NFL over the course of the past two decades. Nalen was known for his tenacity and his toughness and his brilliant technique in the zone-blocking system. Nalen will likely get some Hall of Fame consideration.

Nalen is not expected to make a formal announcement on his retirement. His quiet goodbye fits his personality. Nalen rarely agreed to be quoted for interviews and he was an eager supporter of the Broncos' offensive lineman's stance of not talking to the media in the late 1990s and for several years of this decade. Privately, Nalen was warm and known around Denver's facility for his wit.

Bill Williamson covers the AFC West for ESPN.com.

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ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter