MIAMI Daunte Culpepper summed up his thoughts Thursday in two words, which ushered in the start of a new era for the former Pro Bowl quarterback.
"Farewell NFL," he wrote.
With that, a career once filled with such promise came to a most unceremonious end.
Culpepper, who starred for the Minnesota Vikings before a major knee injury in 2005 curtailed his career, announced his retirement in an e-mail Thursday morning, saying he's simply grown tired of fighting for one more opportunity.
The 31-year-old was the Vikings' first-round draft choice in 1999, became their full-time starter a year later, and teamed with Randy Moss to pile up yards and touchdowns at an impressive rate.
But he hurt his right knee in October 2005, never played for the Vikings again, and never seemed to return to his past level, either.
"When free agency began this year, I had a new sense of excitement about continuing to rebuild my career in the same way that I had rebuilt my knee after my catastrophic injury in 2005," Culpepper said.
"Unfortunately, what I found out was that the league did not share any of the optimism about me as an unrestricted free agent that I expected. In fact, there was an overwhelming sense that there was no room for me among this year's group of quarterbacks."
The Miami Dolphins acquired him in 2006 in exchange for a second-round pick, but Culpepper played only four games before being shut down because of continued knee problems. He was sacked 21 times in those four games. and his brief stint with Miami had two compelling images:
Getting sacked seven times in his first home game, where fans booed him by halftime.
Walking off the field during minicamp in June 2007 because the Dolphins wouldn't let him play, and flanked by a team security official.
"Now that dream to get back on the field and prove everybody wrong is behind him," said Dolphins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, who talked to Culpepper about his ongoing comeback quest this summer. "It has to be tough. ... When he was healthy, he was definitely one of the best."
Last season, the Oakland Raiders took a shot on Culpepper, and he made five starts there, albeit only getting five touchdown passes in those games.
"The thing about Daunte was he was a fabulous competitor," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "He competed as hard as anybody on our field and that's unusual for a quarterback."
And over the past few months, he tried to get any opportunity around the league, even saying just last week that he'd be willing to be Aaron Rodgers' backup in Green Bay.
There were no takers, and Culpepper saw no reason to keep waiting.
"Since I was not given a fair chance to come in and compete for a job, I would rather move on and win in other arenas of life," Culpepper said.
In Minnesota, Culpepper's decision was met with disappointment, even though he hadn't played there for years.
"Very surprising. Surprising that he hasn't gotten a job, too. Sad," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "Last year I didn't think he played bad in Oakland. I've seen quarterbacks that are still playing in this league today play a lot worse. ... And they still have jobs. So I don't know the reason for it."
Culpepper completed 64 percent of his passes in a nine-year career, with 142 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder out of Central Florida was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and he was at his best in 2004, when he established career-highs in yards (4,717), touchdowns (39) and passing rating (110.9).
Then came the knee injury, and it all went downhill from there, even though Culpepper who has served as his own agent and announced his retirement in an e-mail believes he can still compete.
"No matter what I did or said, there seemed to be a unified message from teams that I was not welcome to compete for one of the many jobs that were available at the quarterback position," Culpepper said.
Culpepper said, without citing anyone by name, that he was told he'd get a chance with some teams this season when other quarterbacks got injured. Friends, family members and "league personnel" also advised him, Culpepper said, to continue waiting for a chance and postponing any decision on retirement.
"If he was anywhere close to 100 percent, it would seem teams would have to take a shot at him," Holliday said. "You look at the league and you see a lot of teams don't have that high-profile, quality quarterback."
Sometime in the past six days, though, Culpepper's mind was made up.
"I want to thank my family and my fans for their unwavering belief in me as a person and a player," Culpepper said. "I embraced both the peaks and the valleys of the game and my career. I am a better person today as a direct result of the experience of playing in the NFL. I can now focus on the enjoyment of watching some of the greatest athletes in the world play the game I love without the distraction of waiting for those elusive return phone calls."
BENGALS' WR NOW OCHO CINCO: Call him Ocho Cinco on the field, too.
The National Football League decided on Thursday to recognize receiver Chad Johnson's legal name change to Chad Ocho Cinco. The new name will be on the back of his Cincinnati Bengals uniform for the season-opener in Baltimore on Sunday.
The receiver had his name changed in his home state of Florida last week. It's a reference to his uniform number Ocho Cinco means "eight five" in Spanish. When the NFL celebrated Hispanic Heritage month in 2006, he wore it on the back of his uniform for pregame warmups, but had to remove it for the game because of NFL rules it wasn't his real name.
The Pro Bowl receiver asked the media to start calling him by his new name this week. The Bengals couldn't change the name on his uniform until the NFL gave permission.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, league spokesman Greg Aiello said simply: "It's his legal surname."
The receiver has declined to talk about the motivation for his attention-getting change. Coach Marvin Lewis said the receiver had been considering it since last March.
The change to Ocho Cinco is the receiver's latest promotional move. He's also known for his touchdown celebrations, his golden Mohawk for one season, his race against a horse and his list of defensive backs who failed to cover him.
One of the most notable name promotions in pro football was running back Rod Smart's decision to put "He Hate Me" on the back of his XFL jersey, which became the best seller in that league's brief history. Smart trademarked the moniker but did not legally change his name, so he had to go by "Smart" when he made it to the NFL. He played for Philadelphia in 2001 and for Carolina from 2002-05.
EVERETT TO BE HONORED IN BILLS' OPENER: Kevin Everett will be honored while attending Buffalo's season-opener against Seattle on Sunday, a year after the former Bills tight end sustained a severe life-threatening spinal cord injury.
Everett, who has since made a remarkable recovery, is scheduled to be present to receive the Professional Football Writers of America's Halas Award, which goes to the individual in the NFL who overcame the most adversity to succeed last season.
Everett certainly fits that bill. Doctors feared he'd never walk again after he was initially paralyzed from the neck down attempting to make a tackle while covering a kickoff in the Bills' season-opener against Denver.
Days later, Everett showed signs of movement and began walking by November. He has since written a book about his recovery and received numerous honors.
It will be Everett's second visit to a Bills game after he attended the team's home finale last season, a 38-21 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 23.
Later this month, Everett will be honored by The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at its annual Great Sports Legends Dinner in New York. Everett will receive the Inspiration Award handed out by the University of Miami-based spinal cord injury research center.
The Miami Project played a role in Everett's recovery by consulting with Bills team physicians shortly after the player was hurt.
COLLIER MAKING GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT: Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier is making gradual improvement from gunshot wounds but is "not out of the woods yet," his agent told a newspaper Thursday.
Collier remained in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, but agent Jeff Jankovich told the Florida Times-Union he was encouraged by what limited knowledge he has of Collier's condition.
"(The family) seems pretty upbeat he's going to make it," Jankovich told the paper. "He's awake at times. He's still in intensive care, but he's stable. Every time they've talked to the doctors, it seems like it's a little bit better. It's still precarious. There may be more surgery needed, but it seems encouraging at this point."
Jankovich did not immediately return a phone call or an e-mail from The Associated Press.
Collier, a 6-foot-7, 345-pound backup, was shot several times while sitting in his Cadillac Escalade early Tuesday morning. Collier and former teammate Kenneth Pettway were waiting outside an apartment complex for two women when the attack occurred. Police have no suspects in the case. and Collier's family has requested privacy from the hospital and the Jaguars regarding his medical condition.
Jankovich emphasized the need for caution because Collier's progress has been gradual, though the family remains hopeful that his recovery will continue moving in a positive direction. The agent didn't give any specifics about where or how many times Collier was shot or what type of surgery he had.
"We've been told the first 10 days (of recovery) are touch-and-go," Jankovich told the newspaper. "Things are looking good so far, but you don't know how the next week and a half will go. There's further testing to be done, perhaps more surgery. No doctor has come up to me and said he's out of the woods. They weren't sure he was going to make it through that first night."