Even as he spoke through tears during a press conference at the Vanderbilt Marriott on Friday, 16-year NFL veteran and former Tennessee Titan Kevin Mawae looked toward the future as he announced his retirement from football.
The eight-time Pro Bowl center helped pave the way for Chris Johnson’s 2,006 rushing yards in 2009, but Tennessee opted not to re-sign him when his contract expired following the season. He said he received an inquiry from one NFL team in recent weeks but that his desire to be side-by-side with his wife and children outweighed his need to be in the middle of another offensive line.
“My agent asked me one question: What would I regret more?” Mawae said. “Would I regret going (to a new team) and wishing I never went and being away from my family, or not going at all. That answer was an easy one.”
The backdrop of the conference was symbolic to Mawae. He stood behind an NFL Players’ Association banner, an LSU banner, and his college jersey.
LSU faces Vanderbilt on Saturday in the stadium that sits directly behind the hotel where he made the announcement.
“I came in as an LSU alum and just another NFL draft pick, and I’m going to go out the same way,” he explained. “I left a legacy on the field. My next goal is to leave a legacy off of it with the collective bargaining agreement and more importantly with my family.”
Mawae is president of NFLPA and his term lasts through March 2012. With a potential lockout looming in 2011, Mawae figures to be a central figure as the owners and players work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
He wore an NFLPA pin on the lapel of his jacket during the conference and offered a clear assessment of the players’ approach one day after all New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings players lifted one finger and then pointed to one another in a pre-kickoff sign of solidarity in Thursday night’s season-opener.
“I would not hesitate to say that our players are more unified now than ever before,” Mawae, who was at the game, said.
“He set a standard of excellence at his position that will be difficult to match,” NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell said in a release from the NFL office. “Kevin’s greatest legacy, however, is the inspiration he provided as a leader both of his teammates and fellow NFL players, and as a leader of the community. We salute Kevin and look forward to working with him as president of the NFL Players Association to get a Collective Bargaining Agreement that protects and enhances our great game”
Beyond his work as president of the NFLPA, Mawae is pondering other career moves. In order to feel out the idea of coaching, he is currently serving an internship as a strength and conditioning assistant with the Vanderbilt football team. Mawae also has considered going into ministry.
He stated Friday that he wants to help people better themselves, whatever he does.
“We’ll see [about coaching],” he said. “Certainly not in the NFL, they put way too many hours in for just a game. I enjoy having an influence on younger people. If I can have an influence at the college level or the high school level that’s something I’ll entertain. But it’s got to be on my terms and what’s best for my family.”
Mawae said he would miss joking around with the offensive line the most. He noted that he received word the Titans linemen wore his signature, super-tight, grey shorts in his honor Friday. Those who played with him though, will miss his skill and leadership.
“The middle part of his career he was one of the best centers in the league, all the way through the end,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “But you have to admire those guys that walk away on their own terms, and that’s what he did.”
Mawae closed his prepared statement with a poem he wrote. An excerpt from that poem best explains his thoughts:
It’s time to move on, I’ve hung up my cleats,
No more practice or pads, no blitz packages to beat.
The lights are turned out, the glass is all worn,
To play or not, I’m no longer torn.
God has given me a piece of my heart,
It’s time to move on and get a new start.