In an emotional video released by the Carolina Panthers and the Players’ Tribune on Friday morning, veteran defensive end Julius Peppers announced that he will retire after a 17-year NFL career.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about this journey,” he said. “It was the best teacher I ever had, and everything I could’ve hoped for...
“My time here is up. No regrets, no looking back and nothing left to give. It’s not goodbye, it’s ‘see you later.’ But until then, I’m grateful, satisfied and at peace with all that comes next.”
Peppers returned to Carolina, the place where he was drafted in 2002, before the 2017 season. He is the final player from his draft class to retire.
On Friday morning, Peppers released a written piece via “The Players’ Tribune” about his decision.
In it, he discussed his humble roots as a Bailey, N.C., native. The stepson of a farmer, Peppers said he learned about hard work and humility from the people he saw tending their land and harvesting crops.
He also addressed the one big football milestone he never quite accomplished: Winning a Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl ring eluded me, but I don’t need that to validate me,” he said. “I would have loved to have helped deliver that to the fans in Carolina, but I’m content with the career that I had.”
Peppers also thanked Carolina Panthers fans, with a wink toward the “love-hate” relationship he at times had with the fanbase, which was vocally disappointed when he left for Chicago in 2010 (he also played for Green Bay from 2014 to 2016 before coming back to Carolina).
“At the time, getting out of the state where it feels like everybody knows who I am and exploring something different for the first time in my life … that was really important to me,” he said, adding that he felt most of his growth came from “leaving home and heading into the unknown.”
Peppers also left an impression on first-year owner David Tepper.
“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,” Tepper said, according to a team release. “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 finishes his career fourth in NFL history with 159.5 sacks, including a franchise-record 97 in Carolina.
He is the Panthers’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. The winner of the honor will be announced on Saturday.
But just a few hours after Peppers’ announcement, he joined his fellow nominees at the Warren Boys and Girls club in Atlanta to help build a community garden and playground, and to play with kids as a part of the NFL’s “Play60” initiative.
Peppers was quiet, as usual. But he let out a huge belly laugh when some of the kids tried to convince him to run through the “Play60” obstacle course.
“Nah,” he grinned. “I’m retired.”