Yesterday, defensive edge Rob Ninkovich officially walked away from the NFL after 11 seasons in the league – the final eight of which with the New England Patriots. Given that he was a core member of the team since 2009, it honored him with a press conference at the media room; a press conference that was attended by a large number of Ninkovich’s teammates as well as coaches and ownership.
Bill Belichick was the first to step to the podium and kicked off the event by saying that it was an honor to do just that. The Patriots’ head coach congratulated Ninkovich on a “tremendous, tremendous football and personal career and his personal contributions to the Patriots at the same time“, noting that he did so with mixed emotions: “There's certainly a degree of sadness in the way that we'll miss him, although he'll be around and be part of the team. [He's] just a special, really special guy.“
New England’s head coach then dove into his and his team’s history with Ninkovich; from scouting him at Purdue to bringing him aboard as a free agent in 2009 to seeing him develop into a reliable defender and playmaker. Not only did Belichick highlight Ninkovich’s interceptions and sacks, he also called him “one of the most unselfish players“ that he has ever coached: “Didn't come in with a lot of fanfare but just came in and worked hard and became a very, very versatile player for us."
Belichick lauded Ninkovich for playing defensive end, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and in the kicking game. He also delivered, as nepatriotsdraft.com’s Mike Loyko perfectly noted, the most Belichick quote of all time: “As a head coach or as a special teams coach […] just knowing you have a good backup long snapper really lets you sleep at night."
Of course, Belichick also praised the 33-year old for other aspects of his tenure in New England: His work ethic, playing strength and running abilities were mentioned in the same breath as his toughness, versatility and leadership skills: “You can see the testament of everybody here what Rob means to all of us and what he's meant to all of us.“
After Belichick’s remarks, team owner Robert Kraft took over and echoed most of what the head coach had said. He also added several interesting statistics on Ninkovich, noting that he “became the first player since Andre Tippett to record eight sacks in three consecutive seasons. He was one of the most productive, albeit unassuming players in the league.“
Kraft also mentioned Ninkovich’s fumble recoveries as an example for his playmaking abilities: “In his 8 seasons with the Patriots, he recorded 46 sacks, the 14 fumbles and five interceptions. I recently saw a note that said over the last 20 years, the only other NFL players to reach those exact same levels were Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor.“
New England’s owner also talked about another of Ninkovich’s strengths: his beard, calling it an “attribute [that] stands out above all the others“. Kraft called it arguably the greatest beard in franchise history, noting that it "had a kind of a Yukon Cornelius look going“.
Kraft then went back to summarize Ninkovich’s Patriots career: “[W]e're thankful for all of Rob's countless contributions over the past eight seasons, which helped propel the Patriots to six consecutive AFC Championship games and two Super Bowl victories.“ As a core member of the team, Ninkovich played a major role in keeping the Patriots atop the NFL’s mountaintop for as long as they have been – and he ends his career in style: while on top.
To watch the entire event, click here.