Robert Brooks played football longer than he ever thought he would. When his body couldn't endure any more pain, he accepted it.
"I just couldn't cover it up any more," the Packers wide receiver said. "I found myself missing so many practices and taking so much medication just to practice. When you get to that point, I think it's time to call it quits."
Brooks retired Monday after seven injury-plagued seasons with the Green Bay Packers during which he never became the superstar many thought he would. He said his knees, back and hamstrings could no longer withstand the punishment of pro football.
"You can fool a lot of people, but you can't fool yourself," he said. "I'm 29 years old, and after a practice, I feel like I'm 50."
Brooks retires as the Packers' career leader in postseason catches and receiving yards. He is the seventh-leading receiver in the club's 80-year history.
His career followed the arc of the Packers' franchise rebirth, and he was one of the team's most popular players during its run to consecutive NFC championships and a league title. Brooks originated the "Lambeau Leap," the Packers' trademark jump into the Lambeau Field stands to celebrate a touchdown.
"Robert has meant a great deal to this organization and to me personally," offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis said. "If he couldn't perform at the level he wanted to, then I understand that."
Brooks was drafted out of South Carolina in 1992, the same year coach Mike Holmgren and Lewis were hired. In 1995, Brooks caught 102 passes for a team-record 1,497 yards.
But the next three seasons he had just 114 catches for 1,774 yards while missing 16 games with injuries. He had 31 receptions for 420 yards in 12 games last season while playing in he what called "almost constant pain."
Brooks participated in a team minicamp this summer and said he was in the best shape of his life. But when he dropped several balls during his first day of practice Friday at training camp, it was obvious something was still wrong.
He skipped weekend workouts and told coach Ray Rhodes on Saturday he would retire.
"I can't put up the facade any more of being a tough guy," Brooks said. "I think I've done that long enough. It's allowed me to play in this game longer than I think anybody expected me to play."
His departure leaves the Packers alarmingly short of depth at wide receiver.
Green Bay's top receiver, All-Pro Antonio Freeman, is in the midst of a contract dispute which the team may now be ready to resolve quickly. Freeman's agent, Joel Segal, did not immediately return a phone call Monday.
Corey Bradford, Bill Schroeder, Derrick Mayes and an assortment of free agents and rookieare left to be quarterback Brett Favre's targets.
"Obviously, that concerns me a great deal," Lewis said. "But we'll get Antonio in here and some of our young guys will step up. We have a fine group of receivers."
The Packers' first exhibition game is Aug. 14 against the New York Jets.
Brooks' injury problems began in October 1996, when he tore both the ACL and the patellar tendon in his right knee on the first offensive play of a game against San Francisco.
Such a catastrophic injury would have ended many careers, but Brooks surprised team doctors by returning for the 1997 season and catching 60 passes for 1,010 yards and seven touchdowns.
But Brooks said his gimpy knee caused him to overwork his other joints, leading to chronic back pain. He had arthroscopic surgery during training camp last year for a herniated disc, and he had a similar operation Jan. 6.
Brooks attended minicamp in June but various aches remained. He thought about retiring then but reconsidered after talking with Rhodes.
"They gave me the feeling as if they were counting on me," Brooks said.
Brooks, who signed a five-year, $15 million contract in 1998, agreed to a $1.1 million pay cut in June, which the Packers said eased their salary-cap restrictions.
Brooks said he will keep a home in Green Bay and he plans to focus his energies on his interest in music and a ministry he recently founded.
"I really feel comfortable about closing this chapter of my life and opening whatever chapter God has for me," Brooks said.
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