SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -Mike Minter, the Carolina Panthers' career leader in games started and tackles, blamed achy knees in announcing his retirement Tuesday after 10 seasons with the team.
The 33-year-old safety, wearing dark sunglasses, cited injuries for quitting a year earlier than he originally planned.
"I thought about it long and hard," Minter said at a news conference at training camp. "I don't want to be at 80 or 85 percent, but want to be remembered as a player who always played at 100 percent."
Owner Jerry Richardson, fighting back tears, said Minter was the face of the franchise.
"When we think about having the privilege to have a person who starts and ends his career the way Mike has, it's extraordinary," Richardson said.
Minter was the Panthers' second-round pick in 1997, and became a fan favorite because of his longevity, toughness, hard hits and work in the community.
He has 467 more tackles than any other player in franchise history. His 141 starts and 94 consecutive starts are team records, as are his nine fumble recoveries and four interception returns for touchdowns.
"I want to say this is probably the second hardest thing that I've ever had to do," said Minter, wiping away tears. "The first thing was losing my mom, and the second thing is losing football. This is a game I love, a game I have been playing for a long time and it was a hard decision to come to."
Despite being just 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Minter overcame three knee surgeries and a staph infection early in his career to become the key player in Carolina's secondary.
Minter had not missed a game since early in the 2001 season, despite several injuries along the way. He played with a torn biceps muscle and even on a broken foot during Carolina's loss to New England in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2003 season, when he had a career-best 18 tackles.
In thanking Minter, coach John Fox recalled a motivational speaker asking team members about their contribution to the team.
"He asked us, 'Is it better now than before you came?"' Fox said. "I can say right now, Mike, this football team is a better team."
But over the past few seasons, Minter had more trouble with his knees. He took a pay cut in March and announced that 2007 would be his final season, and he was penciled in to start at free safety.
However, Minter was unable to practice twice a day at training camp and told reporters last week he was considering retirement because he wasn't sure if his body would hold up over a 16-game season. He told his teammates about his decision Sunday night during a team meeting.
"Coming into the offseason, you figure you will get healthy, get your knees back and try to get some more magic out of them legs," Minter said, as his wife and four children sat nearby. "At the end of the day, there wasn't anything left.
Minter, the Panthers' defensive captain the past five seasons, was well respected in the locker room and in the community, where he was involved in several business and charitable activities.
"That's the one point that needs to be made: this was a man off the football field," said quarterback Jake Delhomme, one of several veterans at the news conference. "I'm not talking in a masculine type of way. I'm talking in a fatherly type of way and the civic person he was. This a true man and a true pro when he came to play."