FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - New England Patriots guard Stephen Neal announced his retirement today, closing his 10-year career as a member of the Patriots offensive line.
Neal was a championship wrestler at Cal State-Bakersfield and did not play football in college. During his college career he wrestled against and defeated former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and also earned the Dan Hodge Award, known as the Heisman Trophy of collegiate wrestling.
Neal signed with the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2001. After being released by the Patriots following training camp, he spent time on the Philadelphia practice squad before returning to the Patriots when he signed to New England's active roster in December of 2001.
He earned his first career start in his second NFL game on Oct. 13, 2002 vs. Green Bay, but sustained a season-ending injury in that game. After missing the 2003 season, Neal returned in 2004 to wrestle away a starting position at right guard, a position he held for 92 games over the next seven years. During that time, Neal was a part of an offensive line that helped the Patriots finish among the top ten in total offense six times: 2004 (7), 2005 (7), 2007 (1), 2008 (5), 2009 (3) and 2010 (8).
Neal started 17 of 19 games in 2004, including all three playoff games, and celebrated his third Super Bowl Championship in four years with a 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. That year, the Patriots offensive line paved the way for Corey Dillon, who set the Patriots' single-season rushing record with 1,635 yards. In 2007, he helped power an offense that set all-time NFL records with 589 points and 75 touchdowns and contributed to the first 16-0 regular season since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Once again, the Patriots won the AFC East Division Championship and Neal started all three playoff games, including his second Super Bowl in four years.
Neal started 81 of the 86 career regular-season games in which he appeared. He also started in each of the 12 postseason games in which he played with the Patriots. Last season, Neal started the first eight games of the season before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.