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Sunday, March 9, 2014
Mendenhall was more than a football player

By Josh Weinfuss

We now know what former Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall meant last month when he wrote “And that once I had, this particular journey would be over for good. I would finally be at peace. Soon after to embark on a new voyage, hardened from the experience, and no longer alone, but with light by my side,” in his Huffington Post blog.

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Mendenhall has decided to retire, a few days before he was to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday afternoon, a move that wasn't even considered as a possibility by many until Mendenhall's post. But I'll admit, I didn't do a double take when I saw the headline. Apparently, Mendenhall told the Cardinals he wants to focus on other parts of life, like writing a book. He's a very cerebral and introspective man who happened to be a good running back. He didn't do it often, but he shared his passion for literature with reporters in the Cardinals' locker room, talking to them about books on various subjects. And his Twitter feed was often a deep look into how Mendenhall's mind worked.

Mendenhall
Mendenhall
And it was clear it wasn't like many other football players'.

Mendenhall was quiet and kept to himself around the media. He often spoke in clichés and didn't let his guard down, most likely a result of the 2010 tweet he wrote in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing.

“What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...” Mendenhall tweeted.

He lost an endorsement deal with Champion because of the fallout from that tweet.

On the field, Mendenhall's career was riddled with injuries. A shoulder injury during his rookie season forced him to miss the final 13 weeks of the year. He tore his ACL in 2011 while playing for Pittsburgh and spent 2012 recovering from that knee injury. He battled a turf toe injury for the majority of the first half of the 2013.

I don't believe Mendenhall retiring was a football issue. He ran for 687 yards in 2013, his first full season back after the ACL and if it wasn't for his turf toe and a Cardinals' offensive line that didn't find its rhythm until the second half of the season, Mendenhall could've rushed for close to 900 or even 1,000 yards. He showed glimpses of the speed that helped him run for 1,108 yards in 2009 and 1,273 in 2010 when the Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV. He was 72 yards short of a third-straight 1,000-yard season when he suffered the ACL injury in Week 16.

He leaves a career that was consistent but not stellar. Thanks in part to the injuries in his only season with the Cardinals, he didn't live up to the Mendenhall known around the league  -- one reason he was likely to lose his starting job in 2014 to Andre Ellington.

But I don't think that's why he retired. He was ready to explore life outside a locker room and the vision he had led him to where he wants to be.

Mendenhall closed his most recent Huffington Post blog with this:

"That day I sat on my couch two years ago was the very next day after I tore my ACL in week 17 (in 2011). The journey I envisioned is the two years of rebuilding that would follow. And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead."