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'I'm fulfilled': Panthers WR Muhammad leaves NFL after 14 seasons

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- A cocky Muhsin Muhammad joined a Carolina Panthers franchise that was beginning just its second season in 1996. They effectively grew up and matured together over the next two decades.

That's why the former Pro Bowl wide receiver's retirement announcement was so lengthy. There were a lot of memories to go over and a lot of people to thank.

The Panthers' career leader in catches and receiving yards walked away from the game Thursday after 14 seasons, 11 of which were spent in Carolina, where Muhammad made a transformation on and off the field.

"I've done everything I could possibly do in an NFL career for 14 years, outside of actually winning a championship ring," Muhammad said. "I've played in two Super Bowls, I have Super Bowl records and I've done a lot of good things throughout my career. I'm full, I'm fulfilled. I'm at peace with my decision."

Muhammad, 37, said after the 2009 season that he wanted to continue playing. But after the Panthers began a youth movement and chose not to re-sign him, Muhammad had to decide if he wanted to try to play elsewhere.

A desire to spend more time with the private equity fund that he recently started and possibly do television work made the decision easier.

Muhammad, a crowd favorite known as "Moose" in these parts, is finished with football and set to chase around his six kids -- including two adopted from Ethiopia.

Muhammad finishes with a team-best 696 catches and 9,255 receiving yards, and his 50 touchdown receptions are tied with Steve Smith for the most in franchise history.

"It's been exhilarating, it's been fun, it's been really fulfilling," Muhammad said. "I really love my fans, the community. I'll always be here, be a part of this. It's been really refreshing to always have the support of the fans, the organization, the city, of the state. It's been an honor to represent this organization."

Muhammad was Carolina's second-round draft pick in 1996 out of Michigan State. There were some clashes early with veteran receivers coach Richard Williamson, and Muhammad had some trouble on and off the field despite his skill as a tall, possession receiver and exceptional downfield blocker.

Muhammad drew publicity for putting "D. Coy" over the name on the back of his jersey at practice one day because he believed he wasn't getting the ball enough. He was quoted after a 52-9 loss to close the 2000 season that, "Amid all the ashes and rubble, a flower bloomed today" because he had gone over 100 catches for the season.

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But as Muhammad grew older, started a family and teamed with Smith and new coach John Fox, the Panthers thrived.

Muhammad was a key cog in Carolina's 2003 Super Bowl season, catching an 85-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme, still the longest in the title game's history.

Muhammad made his second Pro Bowl in 2004, only to leave for the Chicago Bears after the Panthers released him when they couldn't agree on a restructured contract.

"You never should have left," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told Muhammad on Thursday.

Muhammad reached another Super Bowl with the Bears in the 2006 season, but his numbers declined a year later and he was released.

Smith, a close friend, quickly tried to convince Panthers management to sign Muhammad as the team had struggled to find an adequate complement. Muhammad re-signed with Carolina before the 2008 season.

"Making up was better than breaking up," he said.

Muhammad became a veteran influence in the locker room, Carolina's union representative, active in the community, and he still was one of the game's best blocking receivers.

"A guy I knew I could count on in tough times," Fox said. "I knew he'd keep a level head even in good times, would grab guys by the throat in the tough times. Moose did all of those things."

But the Panthers didn't make an effort to sign the receiver this offseason as they shed numerous veterans, including Delhomme.

"They just told me that they're doing something different now," Muhammad said. "They're going younger, they're rebuilding and that kind of stuff.

"Would there have been an opportunity to re-sign me if it presented itself? I don't know that, but that opportunity would have passed me. I was ready to do something else."

Dressed in a blue suit at a podium at Bank of America Stadium, Muhammad thanked former players and people in the organization ranging from Richardson to the training staff to security guards.

Muhammad didn't tear up until he looked at Christa, his wife and former high school sweetheart in the front row, and Smith, sitting in the back of the room.

"I was trying to keep my eyes away from them because I knew I was going to get emotional," Muhammad said. "Playing with (Smith) and not being able to play with him again. Tears of joy more for my wife and I and our relationship."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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