Julius Peppers is leaving the NFL the way he came into it — quietly.
But the legacy he leaves will speak volumes, until his eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.
The former Panthers defensive end announced his retirement this morning in The Players Tribune, a month after finishing his 17th season.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m not big on words and I don’t like to put myself out there, so I’m just gonna get right to it,” he wrote. “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.
“But as much as I would love to play forever, I know that I can’t. It’s gotta end at some point. That point is now. Today, I’m retiring.”
Peppers went on to thank some friends, and mention his lifelong dream of being a basketball player. He was one at the University of North Carolina, but his path was clearly on the football field.
The No. 2 overall pick in 2002, he finished with 159.5 sacks, fourth on the all-time list behind just Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene. He had stints with the Bears and Packers before returning to his home-state team to wrap up his career, which may not have ended as he wished. But throughout it all, he was one of the dominant pass-rushers of a generation, the kind of athlete who could change games at a moment’s notice.
He became even more that just an athlete, and during his final season he organized efforts for hurricane relief in his home state, giving back to the place that watched him become a legend.