NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The president of the NFL Players Association said he got one offer from a team this year. It came too late, and Kevin Mawae said Friday he decided being with family was more important than his passion to keep playing in the league.
The veteran offensive lineman announced his retirement from the NFL after 16 seasons and eight Pro Bowls in a news conference while standing in front of banners for the union and LSU, across the street from Vanderbilt University, where he has been working as a strength and conditioning intern.
A framed LSU jersey with Mawae's college number 52 stood to his left, a present from Tigers coach Les Miles who's in town for a game Saturday night.
"My brother reminded me I have nothing to prove nor do I have anything to lose in this decision,'' an emotional Mawae said. "I've done everything an NFL player can want to do except winning a championship. With that, I walk away from the NFL on my own terms and with the only regret that of not being a Super Bowl champion.''
Mawae (muh-WHY) played for Tennessee last season, starting all 16 games and helping block for Chris Johnson as he ran for 2,006 yards. The starts gave Mawae 241 regular season games played, at that time the most among active linemen. He missed only three starts, in his rookie season with Seattle.
But his contract was up, the Titans went younger with Leroy Harris, and no team called to sign the lineman, who turns 40 in January. He finished his career playing in his final Pro Bowl. He will serve out his term as union president, which ends in March 2012. Mawae felt his role as union president, with the league and union in the final year of their labor deal, limited interest in him.
"I'm the only ... Pro Bowler in the last two years not on a roster right now. It doesn't take a brainiac to figure that out,'' he said.
He did get a call from a team he did not name. Mawae said he discussed the issue with his agent, his wife Tracy and his pastor. But he said the mental wall players build to block out the physical aches and pains was down, and he didn't want to be separated from his 13-year-old son or 10-year-old daughter. He used a tissue from his daughter as he cried at times.
"I don't like to hurt. It hurts to get out of bed in the morning. It hurts to walk upstairs. As a player, an active player, you block those things out. When you're not involved in the game, that wall comes down, and it's too hard to build that wall back up,'' he said.
Mawae first was elected president of the players union in 2008 and was re-elected to the two-year post in March. He had been on the union's executive committee since 2000 and was a players' representative between 1998 and 2000.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saw Mawae before the league's opener Thursday night in New Orleans and congratulated Mawae on an outstanding career. Goodell noted in his statement Mawae was one of only two centers in NFL history to play in eight Pro Bowls. Elias Sports Bureau found the late Mike Webster played in nine.
"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,'' Goodell said.
According to Elias, Mawae's 211 starts at center were third behind Ray Donaldson (228) and Jeff Van Note (225) since 1970.
Titans left tackle Michael Roos was on hand along with Harris and Titans linebacker David Thornton, the team's player representative. Roos said earlier he thought his friend could have kept playing.
"He's one of those guys that the league will be a little more somber not having him here,'' said Roos, who still has Mawae's No. 68 practice jersey hanging in his locker.
A four-year starter at LSU, the 6-foot-4, 289-pound Mawae was drafted in the second round in 1994 by the Seahawks and also played for the New York Jets before landing with the Titans in 2006.
Mawae earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 1999 with the Jets, after blocking for Curtis Martin, who ran for 1,464 yards. He snapped his streak of playing in 177 consecutive games in October 2005 when he hurt his left triceps, knocking him out of the final 11 games.
He signed with Tennessee where he spent the final four seasons of his career, helping the team to two playoff berths as part of an offensive line that allowed an NFL-low 12 sacks in 2008. He missed the two playoff games with injuries.