ASHBURN, Va. -- When Washington Redskins' six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels formally announced his retirement Thursday, he revealed that he played his entire NFL career knowing he had a spinal condition that put him at risk of paralysis with every blow to the head.
"I think one or two years, it seemed to be like a fear that was coming over me before the games," Samuels said. "But once I prayed about it and stepped out there on the field, and after the first hit, I would be fine."
Samuels recalled a time when he collided head-to-head with Simeon Rice and went totally numb.
"I lost power in my upper body and my lower body," Samuels said. "I got up off the ground and actually fell again. ... Thinking back over it, I was probably a little bit crazy going back out there."
That wasn't in 2009. It was in 2000, Samuels' rookie year.
Samuels lost feeling several times after hits during his career, and the final blow came Oct. 11 when he banged heads with a defensive player in a game against the Carolina Panthers. His upper body went limp. When the doctor who had told him before that it was OK to keep playing looked at the X-rays this time, he said it was time to quit. A follow-up exam a few weeks ago yielded the same result.
"A lot of people, they've been praying for me to receive a miracle," Samuels said at a news conference attended by his parents, girlfriend and several teammates. "But they really don't realize that I received my miracle when I got up off the field in North Carolina. ... It's going to be hard to walk away from the game I love, but it's the best thing for me and my family."
Samuels was one of the few steady forces in a frenetic, mostly losing decade for the Redskins. The No. 3 overall draft pick from Alabama in 2000, he was a starter from the first game of his rookie season and a Pro Bowl selection in 2001-02 and 2005-08. He also stayed out of trouble, kept his ego in check and became a team captain. His retirement leaves a gaping hole that will be hard to fill.
"He doesn't look at himself as being special," said Jimmy Sexton, Samuels' agent, "like a lot of these guys that have played 10 years in the league."
Samuels first learned of his condition, called stenosis, when he went numb and was hospitalized after a hit during a high school game. Some doctors told him then and there he shouldn't play the sport again. Others told him he would make it through six or seven years in the NFL, at most.
"Mentally, I've been preparing for this for a long time," Samuels said, "so don't you guys feel sorry for me."
Samuels said he wants to coach and has accepted a minority internship to work with the Redskins coaching staff during the offseason. Those are long hours compared to the idle life he could lead as a millionaire many times over.
"If I can suck it up and go out there with a bad knee, a hurt neck, I know I can sit behind some TV and watch and drink coffee for a few extra hours," Samuels said. "I'm 32 years old. I've got to do something. I can't sit around the house all day."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.