His emotions were all over; at times they made him ramble. But even then, he was insightful. And real.
He was surrounded by family members, in from Georgia to celebrate a career he and just about everyone else thought he’d never have. His Seahawks teammates and coaches packed the auditorium inside team headquarters for the official final day of his football life.
Amid all that, Ricardo Lockette nailed why these guys risk their health, and for him, their lives to play in the NFL.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Am I sad what happened to me?’ ” the 29-year-old wide receiver and special-teams ace said Thursday while announcing his retirement — an end forced by a hit then surgery that fused his neck together and leaves him with titanium rods in it.
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“No,” Lockette said, “because I’m a dog.
“You live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
For five years in the league, Lockette lived as a reckless punt gunner and kickoff-coverage sprinter. He spent the first two of those seasons, for Seattle in 2011 and San Francisco in ’12, mostly on the practice squad. He earned $1.71 million the last three years to do the job at which few excel and many get injured. Severely.
As impressive as Lockette was speeding down fields and being the first Seahawk to blast returners for the last three years, he was even more impressive in discussing his retirement.
“As he showed you again today,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said afterward, “he is a unique and extraordinary kid. Just an amazing man. Just a wonderful spirit.
“He has an extraordinary heart. He’ll be an MVP in whatever he does.”
Lockette spoke frankly about the realities of NFL life with its inherent lack of guarantees. At one point he looked past the media members and camerapersons at the front to his now ex-teammates that filled the back.
“You never know,” he told them, “when your last play is going to be.”
He never knew his was going to be on a punt during Seattle’s game at Dallas Nov. 1.
Cowboys safety Jeff Heath crushed him with a blind-side hit in the open field on a punt.
Lockette feared he might die while laying on that field in Arlington, Texas.
He said he spoke with Heath that night, while he was in Baylor Medical Center in Dallas awaiting neck surgery that ended his football days. Lockette said he has no hard feelings towards Heath, that he told him he was “a warrior” and encouraged him to “keep on doing what you do.”
Lockette’s decision to retire ultimately was not difficult.
“No,” he said, “because I love my family. And I’d rather walk.”
He was wearing a tan suit over a light-blue dress shirt that covered much of the large surgical scar from his head to his upper back. He said the two rods in his neck make him unable to lift heavy items or “play sports with my kids.”
“No roller coasters,” he added with a grin.
That was after a video tribute the Seahawks produced and showed. Lockette’s parents Earl and Felita, brother Earl Jr. and girlfriend Jamaica were at his side atop the stage in the main auditorium of team headquarters.
Lockette described his remarkable journey from Wallace State Community College in Alabama. He revealed for the first time, even to his parents, that he slept in his car for three nights, feeling like a flop for failing in his long-shot bid in 2008 to make the Olympics in track. Mom and Dad raised their eyes at that.
He was a 200-meter national Division II champion at Fort Valley State, tried football, then entered the NFL in 2011 with Seattle as an undrafted free agent who was raw — but fast and determined.
Three teams — the Seahawks, 49ers and Bears — cut him four times. Yet he came back each time. He caught a 19-yard pass in Seattle’s Super Bowl triumph in February 2014. If New England’s Malcolm Butler hadn’t cut off Lockette’s slant route at the goal line and intercepted Russell Wilson’s last-second pass to end Super Bowl 49, the out-of-nowhere track runner from small Albany, Georgia, would have won two consecutive rings.
Lockette thanked team senior director of player development Maurice Kelly for preparing him for life after football, financially, socially and pragmatically. It’s the side of the NFL overshadowed by the fame, the championships, the money and the cheering fans — but it’s the real-life side of a profession in which the average career of a player is 3.3 seasons.
“From day one,” Lockette said, “he is preparing us to leave.”
Lockette said he might want to stay around football. But he spoke far more eloquently and earnestly about wanting to help disadvantaged children, helping the homeless — especially, he said, women who are in shelters with children.
The day he got out of the hospital in Dallas in November, Lockette saw homeless on the streets of Dallas, went to a nearby burger shop and returned to pass out food for everyone there.
When Thursday’s press conference ended, Lockette raised his right hand and formed an “L” with his index finger and thumb. That’s the same sign he gave while tied to the stretcher that took him out of that hushed AT&T Stadium and straight to the hospital in Dallas, into surgery and retirement. The “L” is for “LOB, Love Our Brothers.”
His family saw him do the gesture, and they did it, too, right there on the podium. His Seahawks teammates roared.
“It’s not a sad day for me. Life goes on,” Lockette said, a fact he wasn’t immediately sure of after that fateful hit. “I never really wanted to be an Olympic track star or an NFL player. I just wanted to be great. I wanted to be great at something. I wanted to make my family proud.
“And, hopefully, I’ve done that.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle