San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick retires after 11 years

February 3, 2015

If the San Diego Chargers are going to contend for the Super Bowl next season, then quarterback Philip Rivers and company will have to overcome the loss of one of the team's top veteran players, as standout center Nick Hardwick today announced his retirement from the National Football League after a career that spanned 146 games as the Chargers’ starting center.

“I am so proud to retire from the NFL having spent my entire career with the San Diego Chargers,” said Hardwick. “I want to thank Dean Spanos and the entire Spanos family for bringing me to San Diego, and I especially want to thank all of my teammates, the coaches and staff members who allowed me to spend 11 memorable seasons with the greatest organization in professional football. I wish I could play forever, but this game has a finite life and it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.”

A collegiate wrestler, Hardwick took an unexpected route to the NFL.  During his sophomore year in 2000, the Purdue Boilermakers won the Big Ten title and played against Washington in the Rose Bowl, the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1967. Caught up in the campus excitement, Hardwick decided to walk on to the school’s football team in the spring. He ended up making the squad as a scout-team defensive tackle and a year later, he became the Boilermakers’ starting center.

A third-round pick and the 66th overall choice in the 2004 NFL Draft, Hardwick was a Pro Bowl center in 2006 and four times in subsequent seasons he was named an alternate for the League’s all-star game. Hardwick was a three-time pick as the team’s Lineman of the Year (2011-13), named Most Inspirational twice (2010 and 2013), and was selected to the Chargers’ 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2009.

“I think I speak for every teammate he’s ever had and the teammates currently that we will really miss Nick the football player, but we’ll miss Nick the person for sure the most," said Rivers.

Throughout the duration of Hardwick’s career, from the beginning of the 2004 season through the first game of 2014, he helped the Chargers win 100 games while the team lost just 61. He anchored an offense that saw the Chargers rush for 19,175 yards and 175 touchdowns, the second-most TDs in the league during that span, while he also was responsible for orchestrating an offensive line that allowed just 302 sacks, seventh-fewest in the NFL over that same span.

"When Hardwick was playing, everything for everybody else was easier," said former running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "He could call out the defense, he made the run game better for us and he made us a better unit. His smarts along with his ability, he was certainly the best center I ever played with. He is a great person and easy to get along with. He kept it light in the locker room. He’s one of those guys that can get along with everybody."

Upon his arrival in San Diego, Hardwick made an immediate impression on the Chargers’ brass and moved into the starting lineup during his 2004 rookie season. It was a special year as the Chargers went 12-4 and won their first AFC West title since 1994. With Hardwick anchoring the offensive line, the Chargers rushed for 2,185 yards and 24 touchdowns, the fourth-highest season total in team history.

That 2004 season began a stretch in which the Chargers won AFC West titles in five of six years, including a record-breaking 2006 season and a 2007 season in which the Chargers advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

In 2006, Hardwick started every game of a 14-2 season as the Bolts set team records for rushing yards (2,578) and rushing touchdowns (32). A year later, despite missing four games due to a foot injury, Hardwick helped the Chargers to an 11-5 season that catapulted the Bolts into the playoffs where they defeated Tennessee and Indianapolis in route to the AFC title game.

In 2008, Hardwick started 13 games for a team that made one of the most improbable playoff runs in NFL history. He missed the first three games of the season with a foot injury and returned as the Bolts struggled to a 4-8 mark through the season’s first 12 games. With virtually everyone writing the team off, the Chargers rallied to win four straight to close out the season and qualify for the playoffs where a win over Indianapolis propelled them to the divisional round.

"He would study every little thing and try to understand where the blitz was coming from," said Rivers of Hardwick.  "We would build it from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and by Friday we would go ‘we got them wired, we got them.’ There was no better feeling on Sunday afternoon when here came that blitz and he and I saw it together and we orchestrated the protection and picked it up and converted a third down. There’s 70,000 fans screaming; there’s linemen running to the line; people running everywhere, and he and I will make eye contact and point and go ‘yeah! We got ‘em.’ It was that special bond in the football aspect that I really don’t know can be duplicated."

Hardwick suffered a severe and potentially career-ending ankle injury during the 2009 season opener at Oakland and missed 13 games. Rather than allowing the injury to derail his promising career, Hardwick returned in time for a late-season push to the playoffs. His return launched a streak of 70 straight starts, including playoffs, that didn’t come to an end until Hardwick suited up for the final time in the 2014 season opener at Arizona.

By Staff of and news services

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