FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — D’Brickashaw Ferguson has a 10-inch vertical scar in the middle of his chest. He hasn’t discussed it publicly in years, probably not since his rookie year in 2006, but he chose to address it Thursday at his retirement news conference at One Jets Drive.
To celebrate the end of his career, Ferguson went back to the beginning — before football. As a 9-year-old, he underwent open-heart surgery, a life-changing event on so many levels.
“This all started because a young boy who had to have open-heart surgery desperately wanted to prove his toughness — not only to himself but everybody — by playing football,” he told a packed auditorium.
Ferguson marveled at how a youngster initially restricted from playing contact sports could go on to play 10 years in the NFL, never missing a game or a play due to injury. He called himself “blessed.”
It was a classy exit by Ferguson, 32, who stunned teammates last week by announcing his retirement.
Speaking for the first time since his bombshell, Ferguson, who never appeared on an injury report, said he decided to call it quits because it had become “harder and harder and harder” to maintain his usual level of play. He said he’s “not retiring because of CTE.”
Although he never suffered a concussion, he has been outspoken on long-term concerns associated with head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Ferguson downplayed a proposed pay cut as the reason for retiring. He was due to make $10.3 million this season, and the Jets approached him recently about taking a significant reduction. He said he wasn’t surprised when the organization broached the subject, but he admitted he was stung by the recent speculation about his job security.
“It was difficult,” he said. “I think not to be the guy who is automatically the left tackle was … something new to me. I was taken aback. I just wasn’t used to that. But at the same rate, I also recognize this happens in football. You play your game and, at a certain point, the game must end. There’s a natural progression in sports. No matter who you are … there’s an end.
“To me, that was a sign that things are changing, it’s just not the next season, something is different. I wanted to be able to see those things and what they meant to me. It gave me time to think, ‘Brick, what do you want?’ This is what I want.”
The organization gave Ferguson quite a sendoff. Commemorative pins, featuring Ferguson’s No. 60, were handed out before the news conference. Video highlights were shown on the big screen. Several current and former teammates were in attendance, including Nick Mangold, James Carpenter, David Harris, Geno Smith, Antonio Cromartie, Willie Colon and Bart Scott.
“I kind of expect these guys to go on forever,” owner Woody Johnson said. “For 10 years, we never looked at left tackle. And there was Brick.”
Ferguson, nattily attired in a blue suit, brought a small notebook with him to the podium — his cheat sheet. Typical Brick, always prepared. He maintained his composure throughout the session, avoiding any tears. He called it an “exciting” day for him.
Offensive linemen rarely are celebrated during their playing days. They’re the anonymous grunts upfront, the engine underneath the hood. On this day, Ferguson, always content to stay out of the headlines, lapped up the attention. He joked about how lucky he is to have a commemorative pin in his honor.
“I mean, who has pins?” he cracked.
Turning serious, Ferguson recounted his journey, telling the heart-surgery anecdote.
“I was not born to play football,” he said. “I had to go to the hospital to have surgery to correct something in me that was abnormal. Because of how I felt, that feeling of being handicapped, spurred some type of desire in me that I’m going to prove to you and myself that I could do this. I picked football. Out of everything else, I picked football.”
The man with the surgically repaired heart showed plenty of it over a 10-year career.