There's nothing good about concussions, of course, but perhaps the worst thing about the malady that seems to be a bigger talking point on a week-by-week basis in the NFL is when a group of "head hits" takes one of the better guys from the game.
So it was when San Diego Chargers guard Kris Dielman, the four-time Pro Bowler who signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003, retired on Thursday. Dielman had played at a very high level for a very long time, but head injuries finally caught up to him in a big way during the 2011 season.New York Jets, Dielman went down after one play like a buffalo who'd just been shot by a musket. He did so in clear view of a game official, but resumed play. Dielman suffered a seizure on the team plane after the game, leading to the end of his career and the NFL's supposed "harder stance" on concussions. To wit: Game officials were no longer allowed to pretend that concussions never happen.
In any case, Dielman's retirement press conference was a testament to the respect his teammates and coaches have always had for him. At least 15 of those teammates were in attendance, as well as just about everybody from the Chargers' coaching staff and front office.
Dielman struggled to maintain his composure at times, but delivered an emotional recollection of his time in the NFL.
"I love this game. I've given it everything I have. It's time for me to focus on my future and my quality of life. I want to thank the Spanos family and the Chargers for giving me the opportunity in the NFL. Because they believed in me, I was able to realize a dream and for that I will be forever grateful.
"This is a celebration. I got nine years of playing football ... It just sucks it has to end this way, but it is. I made some great friends over the years. Good example is [center Nick]Hardwick. We battled together for eight years. ... I love this kid so much that he's the godfather of my son.
"I gave everything I had. It ended a little early, but it is the right thing to do. I had a blast."
In his comments at the press conference, Hardwick emphasized the power of friendship on the field.
"It has been an honor to play next to Kris for so many years. His loyalty and toughness gave me and the guys who played with him a sense of security, knowing that we had the baddest guy on the field. And we knew nobody wanted to find out how bad a dude he was. He taught us about loyalty, will power and friendship. I will certainly miss being in the huddle standing next to my best friend and personal protector."
"As a player, you wish you had 53 Kris Dielmans on your team, just because of how much he cared and how hard he played," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We won a bunch of games because of him. He had a lot to do with our success offensively ... He played the way he did because of his love for the game, and that never changed.
"Coming in as a rookie, he really helped me out a lot," running back Ryan Mathews added. He showed me that he really cared and he really believed in me. He was probably the first guy that I clicked with, one of the first linemen to accept me into the group of guys. He's so tough and he's so aggressive. He loves to play the game of football. You can just tell he was born to play. Everything he did, he did it to the best of his ability. He made sure that he was doing everything right.
"I'm going to miss him a lot."
That was the one common thread when it came to the end of Dielman's career -- that he'll be missed just as much for what he brought to the team as a person, and it's always worth making that known.
Hal Hunter, Dielman's offensive line coach, may have said it best -- in football, and in life, Dielman pushed his way past the odds and turned himself into a winner..
"I think he epitomizes the old-school, self-made player. Just a tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar type guy. And he had all those other things that didn't take talent like toughness, work ethic and dependability. He was really, really smart and he combined all those things to be the player that he was. He had everything in a player that you could want.
"He was really an easy guy to coach. I'll miss the attitude that he brought to the meeting room, to practice and to the game. There's a lot of guys who are tough, but Kris was intimidating. Guys didn't want to mess with him. He intimidated his opponent and he did it to the point where the guy he was battling didn't want to deal with him anymore."
- San Diego Chargers