FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — For Vince Wilfork, retirement means a chance to sleep late, go fishing or just hang around without needing to be someplace special.
“I’m finally calling it quits from a game that I truly, truly, truly love, a game that I was committed to, a game that I was dedicated to, a game that I gave all to,” the former Patriots and Texans defensive tackle said Wednesday after a news conference in New England to confirm his long-rumored retirement.
“For 20 years I’ve been on a schedule,” he said. “I just want to relax. I just want to do something I haven’t had a chance to do in 20 years.”
A five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl champion in New England, Wilfork returned to Gillette Stadium for a ceremony to retire as a Patriot. He and owner Robert Kraft signed a contract, and Wilfork was re-presented with a No. 75 jersey like the one he got when he was picked 21st overall in the 2004 draft.
The Patriots were defending Super Bowl champions then. Wilfork took that as a challenge, and he helped them claim the NFL title in his rookie year and again in 2014, his last year in New England.
“There wasn’t a matchup that I thought I couldn’t win,” he said. “I was a true champion. I believed I was the baddest person that’s on the field at all times, and that’s how I handled my business. That’s what kept me driving.”
Wilfork, 35, signed with the Houston Texans in 2015 as a free agent and played his final two seasons there. Kraft said it was a sad time for him personally, having grown to like Wilfork and his wife, Bianca, so much that he invited them along on a family vacation.
“But the good news is, he’s coming back here and asked to be a Patriot for life,” said the owner, who wore a medallion Wilfork gave him picturing Kraft and his wife, Myra, who died in 2011.
About a dozen Patriots players and members of the sideline staff attended the farewell news conference after their final practice on Wednesday for the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Receiver Julian Edelman wished “Big V.” and his family well.
“It’s a sad day when the big fella hangs them up,” Edelman said Tuesday. “I mean, he’s a flat-out stud and he’s going to be missed, but I think we should celebrate the kind of career he had. He was arguably one of the best — he’s the best I’ve seen.”
Wilfork broke down when he thanked his parents, who died before he reached the NFL. And he also thanked the Texans, whose last game was a January playoff loss to the Patriots, and said that playing his final game in Foxborough was the perfect ending.
“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or what, but I’m happy I got to play and end my career on the field I started on,” he said, noting that both the New England and Houston fans were able to watch his finale. “I had everybody in one place to witness my last game. That’s pretty awesome.”