“It was a great ride.”
That’s how Greg Olsen views his 14-year career in the NFL.
That’s how he retired Sunday.
The 35-year-old former Super Bowl and three-time Pro Bowl tight end posted his retirement message on his social-media accounts online two weeks after his only season with the Seahawks ended with a first-round playoff loss.
He has a job as a football analyst for Fox Sports television—plus his wife and children, their charity and his work for kids with congenital heart disorders—waiting for him.
“To the countless teammates, coaches and staff members in Chicago, Seattle, and especially Carolina, I thank you,” Olsen wrote Sunday. “You molded and shaped me into the person I am today. I’ll cherish those personal relationships more than anything else. This career is built on relationships, and in that area I was so fortunate.”
Olsen was the Bears’ 31st-overall choice in the first round of the 2007 draft. In 2015 he had 77 catches for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns. He made his second of three straight Pro Bowls for a 15-1 Carolina Panthers team that beat Seattle on their way to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers lost that title game to Denver.
When Olsen signed with Seattle 12 months ago for one season and $7 million, he said winning the Super Bowl was his purpose.
After 24 catches in 37 targets with one touchdown for the NFC West-champion Seahawks—who didn’t get near the production in the passing game they sought when signing him—winning it all remains the one career goal that eluded him.
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“I try not to look back and have regrets. I have so much I am proud of over my career,” Olsen wrote. “But as I look back on my career, I have two. I regret never reaching the top of the mountain. I regret walking off the field under the weight of confetti, but realizing our dream came up short.”
He is a hero in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last month, the day after he missed his second game with a major foot injury, Olsen and his wife Kara opened The HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
He and Kara run his foundation based in Charlotte from his nine seasons playing for the Panthers through last year, Receptions For Research. Each spring the Olsens host The HEARTest Yard event and 5K race in Charlotte to raise awareness and funds for children with congenital heart disorders.
Their 8-year-old son T.J. was born was a congenital heart defect.
Their new center at Levine Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with Atrium Health, has been eight years in the planning and funding by the Olsens.
He impacted his final team, too.
The Seahawks feared his season and career had ended in November. Olsen couldn’t walk and had to be carted out of the stadium after he tore the plantar fascia in his foot during Seattle’s home win over Arizona.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen is carted off. The Seattle Seahawks played the Arizona Cardinals in a NFL football game at Lumen Field in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Joshua Bessex JBESSEX@THENEWSTRIBUNE.COM
“I refuse to allow this to be my final moment,” Olsen wrote on Twitter the day after the injury.
He then wowed the Seahawks with how quickly he returned from his second major injury in three years. He was back in one month and eight days. They knew he could have called it a career then: at 35, in the middle of a pandemic, with but a few games left in the season. He earned $70 million in his career. The $5.5 million Seattle guaranteed him on a one-year deal had already cashed. He has more millions waiting for him with his Fox TV gig.
Yet he worked his way back quickly from not being able to walk. He played in the NFC West title game, catching a pass for 15 yards as the Seahawks beat the Rams Dec. 27. He played in Seattle’s playoff loss to L.A. two weeks later.
“He’s the real deal,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
“He’s made an extraordinary recovery, to get to this right now. …
“He’s such a great football player. He loves the game so much. …I mean, there is NO space other than he is at the top of the list in all of the character principles about who he is and what he is all about and what you can expect from him.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen is upended by Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris during Sunday night’s NFL football game at Centurylink Field in Seattle, Washington, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. Tony Overman TOVERMAN@THEOLYMPIAN.COM
“He is amazing,” Carroll said.
“I don’t even know how he got well this fast. I haven’t a clue how that happened. But, he did.”
His season and career ended for Olsen with a particularly empty feeling. He had no catches and played just eight offensive snaps inside Lumen Field, which was empty again Jan. 9 for Seattle’s playoff loss, because of Washington and King County restrictions for COVID-19.
“My ultimate regret was not being able to enjoy the end with my family,” Olsen wrote in his goodbye to the game Sunday. “Watching the time tick down, in an empty stadium, knowing it would be my last game. Not having the ability to be surrounded by my loved ones. Not being able to hug them and thank them for a lifetime of love and sacrifice.
“Life doesn’t always go as planned, but it was a great ride.
“Look forward to the life ahead for us.”