Former football star Mark Gastineau, who fought his way back with the New York Jets, says he is leaving the game to help his fiancee, actress Brigitte Nielsen, in her fight against cancer.

"My relationship with Brigitte Neilsen was the primary reason I returned to football this year, and for whatever success I enjoyed," the 31-year-old defensive end said at the Phoenix airport on Thursday."Her sudden illness, for which we are now seeking medical treatment, has caused me to put into perspective my career and the things that are most important to me in my life. I hope everyone will understand this decision and wish us well."

Gastineau, who was leading the American Football Conference in sacks with seven, told Jets Coach Joe Walton on Tuesday that he was contemplating retirement from the National Football League. He attended team meetings in Hempstead on Wednesday, but skipped practice, claiming an illness in the family.

After a poor preseason, Gastineau rebounded this year to become a dominant figure again.

The last four years have been frustrating, both on and off the field.

Gastineau and quarterback Ken O'Brien were involved in a scuffle at Studio 54, a Manhattan nightclub; he injured his knee in 1986; last season, when he crossed the picket line, teammates pelted his car with eggs and spat on him.