Keyshawn retires, will join ESPN

5-24-07 -- As Keyshawn Johnson pondered retirement, he looked to Tiki Barber for advice.

Barber, a longtime star for the New York Giants, went through a similar process some time ago, and announced last fall he wouldn't return next season.

Three weeks after being released by the Carolina Panthers, Johnson reached the same decision despite several opportunities to play on.

"He gave me some good words of wisdom, wanted me to think long and hard about my kids, my family, my body," Johnson said Wednesday at a news conference on the University of Southern California campus, where he starred before the New York Jets made him the first overall selection in the 1996 draft.

Johnson, who turns 35 in July, became the 16th player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions and the 26th with 10,000 yards receiving last season, when he caught 70 passes for 815 yards and four touchdowns for the Panthers.

He finishes with 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns in 167 games.

Johnson, who played a great game and talked one as well during an 11-year career, will soon be expressing his strong opinions on radio and television.

"I've done everything I wanted to do in my career," he said. "I just couldn't find one thing that could drive me back to playing football. As I learned from Bill Parcells -- the circus doesn't stay in town very long."

Jerome Stanley, Johnson's agent, said his client agreed to terms on what he called a substantial deal with ESPN, adding: "We're very, very pleased."

Johnson will appear on several telecasts, including pre-game shows on Sundays and Monday nights. He'll be doing radio work as well.

"We're still working on all the different platforms they want me to be a part of," he said.

Johnson worked the NFL draft last month for ESPN, which was impressed enough to offer him a job. The Panthers released him three days after taking former USC star wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round.

"When Keyshawn decided to retire from football, we jumped at the chance of adding him to our NFL roster, especially after his impressive on-air performance during the NFL draft," ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said. "He delivered passionate opinions and candid analysis, attributes that will make him a first-rate analyst in his new career."

Johnson said Carolina's decision to release him was a surprise.

"It never crossed my mind," Johnson said. "It'll happen to a ton of other guys. You have to be prepared for what goes on in the National Football League. Once I was released from Carolina, it speeded up the process."

Johnson said retirement will enable him to spend more time with his 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

"I need to give something back -- watch them grow," he said.

Johnson said at least a half-dozen teams were interested in his services.

"Those guys were terrific, from Lane Kiffin to Bill Belichick to Jeff Fisher," Johnson said, referring to the coaches in Oakland, New England and Tennessee, respectively. "They all wanted me to play football for them. At the end of the day, it just didn't fit into what I wanted to do now."

Stanley said the Titans offered close to $8 million for two years, with most of the money guaranteed.

Fisher said Johnson informed him he was retiring Wednesday morning.

"He let me know that this decision had nothing to do with us and everything to do about him and his desire to move into the broadcasting business and leave his playing days behind," Fisher said. "I've known Keyshawn for a long time and I am happy he is able to walk away on his own terms after a very successful career."

Fisher became friends with Johnson while he played at USC and Johnson was a ball boy.

"I wavered time and time again," Johnson said. "I've lived my dream. Now, I'm going to live another dream. I think today is not as emotional as the last two weeks, thinking about it. There were times there were sleepless nights, wondering if this was the right thing to do."

Parcells became Johnson's coach with the Jets in 1997 -- a year after Johnson caught 63 passes as a rookie for a team that went 1-15. Following that season, he wrote a book: "Just Give Me The Damn Ball," which proved popular with fans if not his teammates.

Johnson was a member of the Tampa Bay team that won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. But differences with Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden led to his being suspended for the final six games of the 2003 season.

He then joined Parcells and the Dallas Cowboys, where he had two productive seasons, with 141 catches and 12 touchdowns.

The Panthers signed Johnson last year after he was released by the Cowboys in a salary cap move so the Cowboys could sign Terrell Owens. While Owens had 85 catches for 1,180 yards and 13 TDs as the focal point of the passing game in Dallas, Johnson performed well as the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith in Carolina.

"I won a Super Bowl and I got away from the game healthy, and I'm walking away under my own terms," Johnson said. "I wouldn't trade my career for anyone's."


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