BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in a long time, Rob Ninkovich woke up Monday morning and didn’t have to think about football.
Ninkovich announced his retirement on Sunday after an 11-year career in the NFL, with the final eight years coming as a member of the New England Patriots. The two-time Super Bowl champ joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Monday morning to discuss his decision, and said he was already feeling the benefits of life after football.
“I’m not sore. My neck isn’t absolutely destroyed right now,” he joked with Toucher & Rich. “It feels good. I feel like I’m 180 pounds now.”
Ninkovich missed the first three days of Patriots training camp, so Sunday’s announcement wasn’t too big of a surprise. He didn’t tell his teammates as they reported for camp last Thursday, but he kind of knew the end of his playing days was near as he got prepared for the 2017 season.
“I’ve played a lot of football so when you’re starting to train and get your body [ready] for a long football season, and you’re hurting for days after getting just one workout in, it’s like ‘how am I going to through this and feel OK to function?’ It’s tough because you don’t want to listen to it, you want to try to ignore it. But when you do that you don’t look like that same guy and you can potentially go out and hurt yourself to the point where you have to deal with it for a while,” said Ninkovich, a two-time captain on the Patriots. “It was the right thing to do for where I was at physically. I just had to be honest with myself. Everything I’ve done I’ve had to work extremely hard to maximize what my body has. I’m not a physical specimen, if you look at me you’re not going to say ‘wow, that guy is a freak.’ I’ve had to grind for 20 years, and when you do that I think it wears on you.
“Playing linebacker is a little different than other positions on the field. I’ve had to take on fullbacks and be very physical, taking on 300-pound linemen on every play. It takes a toll on you. You look at it and I’m very happy and feel so blessed that I was able to play as long as I did,” he continued. “There are not many 35, 36-year-old linebackers. Your body takes a beating. So it was a hard choice, and emotional choice because you work so hard and put so much effort into it.
“I love everything about New England and I’ll be sticking around,” Ninkovich added. “It was very tough, very hard but I have two small kids and I didn’t want to completely tear myself apart to where I didn’t have anything left for them.”
It’s not hard to see why Ninkovich was such a favorite among his teammates and New England fans. He was cut twice by the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins before joining the Patriots in 2009, and he played mostly on special teams upon his arrival in New England, but he quickly became a regular in the defensive lineup as both a lineman and linebacker. He started all 16 games from 2011 through 2015, and his impact on the team was evident on the field, and even more so on Sunday when most of the team lined the media workroom at Gillette to attend his retirement announcement.
Ninkovich’s hard-working attitude and ability to pressure the quarterback made him a fan favorite, and now that he won’t be suiting up on Sundays, he said he may join Patriots fans in their pre-game rituals in Foxboro.
“I live by the stadium so I may ride my bike over and have fun with the fans. I’ve never experience tailgating and I’m sure Pats Nation gets after it pretty good,” he said.
Ninkovich said he’s going to spend most of his time with his family and really enjoy his first football-less August in 20 years. But just because he’s no longer playing doesn’t mean he won’t be helping the organization in some form.
“Coaching is definitely an option, something I thought about doing. The time they [put in], it’s tough. I want to take a break and enjoy this year, just to regroup and get my bearings,” he said. “I’m going to still be around the team and help the young guys as much as I can. I’ll be at practice. [I’ll] definitely still be involved in the organization.”
He also said he’d like to give broadcasting a shot, now that he can break away from the “Patriot Way” of talking to the media.
“Being a Patriot so long, you have to speak a certain way. Now that I’m not on the team I can be a little more Ninko, be more of myself,” he said. “I can kind of get my mojo. I’m a funny guy; people laugh at me a lot. It might be fun for everyone to see my true humor.”