CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Panthers legend and North Carolina native Julius Peppers announced Friday his retirement from the NFL.
In a report posted on the Players’ Tribune, Peppers, a 9-time Pro Bowler who has played professional football for 17 seasons, penned a heartfelt thank you to his fans, mentors, teammates and family as he “prepares to devote the next chapter of his life to his children.”
The Panthers later confirmed Peppers is, indeed, retiring.
In the Players' Tribune, Peppers says, "Seventeen years is a long time to be playing this game. It’s two careers for a lot of people. I’m thankful that I have been able to play so long and still be healthy. I’m not all banged up and beaten down. I still feel good."
Peppers ranks fourth in NFL history with 159.5 sacks, including a franchise-record 97 in Carolina. With 11 interceptions, he is the only player in league history to record both 150 sacks and 10 interceptions.
He went on to say, "Because North Carolina is home, man. I love the people there, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today if I didn’t grow up amongst you and been lucky enough to play in front of fans like you for as long as I did."
Peppers grew up in rural eastern North Carolina, playing football and basketball in high school.
Peppers' former basketball coach Rick Ruffin said even back then, it was clear Peppers was special.
"He just was such a gifted athlete. He was fun to watch," Ruffin said. "He was six foot five inches to six foot six inches, probably 240 to 250 pounds in high school when I had him. He could jump out of the gym. He could run well, he had great hands."
Ruffin described asking Peppers for a favor when he was in college at UNC Chapel Hill. He said he would ask him to speak at a summer camp, more than an hour away.
Ruffin said Pepper would not hesistate and would drive between class and practice.
"That's just something that always stood out to me with him. He always took time out to try to help the coaches and just giving back to the community," Ruffin said. "Just a lot to be proud of as a coach. He's definitely probably is the best one I've ever coached."
Now, a nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time AP All-Pro selection, Peppers has the fifth-most Pro Bowl selections by a defensive lineman in NFL history. His five Pro Bowls and four AP All-Pro selections as a Panther tie for the second-most in franchise history.
“Julius is one of the greatest to ever play the game of football,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “To put up the numbers he did for as long as he did speaks to his incredible talent and commitment. He is a leader in the locker room and in the community. Getting to know him over the last two seasons has been tremendous because of the type of person he is. What he did for the people affected by Hurricane Florence, getting involved and bringing them hope, says a lot about him. I’m proud that I get to say that I was one of his coaches, and I think it’s fitting that he gets to end his career as a Carolina Panther.”
"I’m lucky that I got to play for three incredible fan bases, but my career would not have been possible if it weren’t for so many individuals who have been a part of my life along the way," Peppers said.
Peppers also played for the Chicago Bears from 2010 through 2013 and the Green Bay Packers from 2014 to 2016.
"At the end of the day, the wins are the wins and the losses are the losses. But the relationships are everything."
Peppers played college football at North Carolina, where he was recognized as a unanimous All-American, and was drafted by the Panthers second overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.
In his rookie season, Peppers was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2002, where he recorded 12 sacks, five forced fumbles, and an interception, all while playing in only 12 games. He was also named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
"For my whole life, I’ve been so determined to be good at sports. Now, I’m just as determined to be a great dad. That’s my next chapter — my next challenge. And I’m fully committed to it. There won’t be no comeback. No sir. Once I’m out, I’m out."
Peppers played in 266 of a possible 272 regular season games, the sixth-most games played by a defensive player in NFL history. He played in 176 consecutive games to close his career, the second-longest streak among active players at the close of the season behind Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
“In getting to know Julius over these past months, I’ve learned that he is a man of few words. When he speaks, everyone listens,” Panthers owner David Tepper said. “With that in mind, I will be brief. He’s one of the best to ever wear a Carolina uniform. He carries himself with dignity, integrity and class, and will always be a Panther.”
Peppers was the oldest active defensive player in the league.
He recorded at least seven sacks in all but two of his 17 seasons, tallying a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2008. Since his rookie year in 2002, Peppers’ 21 fumble recoveries are the most in the NFL, his 51 forced fumbles stand second, and his 82 passes defensed lead all defensive linemen.
“There are very few players that you come across that make you think of the word ‘special’ when you mention their name, but that’s Julius,” said general manager Marty Hurney, who made Peppers his first ever draft pick in 2002. “He’s a special player and a special person. His consistency and the ability to make big plays at big times are what define him on the field. Off the field, he’s a great leader. He chooses his words carefully. He’s got great perspective not only on football, but on life. For him to be able to come back and finish his career as a Panther is a great ending to a phenomenal career.”
Peppers blocked 13 combined field goals and PATs, second-most since the statistic began being tracked in 2000. He recorded 897 career tackles based on coaches’ film review.
He scored six career defensive touchdowns, including three as a Panther. Since 2002, his touchdown total ties for the most by any NFL defensive lineman and is tied for 12th among all defensive players.
In addition to his on-field performance, Peppers has made a big impact off the field as well. He is the Panthers’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, which will be awarded on the eve of Super Bowl LIII. After Hurricane Florence tore through the east coasts of North and South Carolina early in the season, Peppers has been generous with his time and his money as an advocate for ongoing recovery efforts.
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