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Originally published Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Injury forces Hawks' Chris Gray to retire

Seahawks' offensive lineman Chris Gray, who spent 11 of his 15 NFL seasons in Seattle, announced his retirement from playing Monday after team doctors determined that a lower back and spine injury he suffered early in training camp could lead to paralysis if he continued to play.

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — Chris Gray held the last paycheck he'll ever receive as a football player in his right hand and smiled, a former employee coming back to his former place of work to say goodbye.

Goodbye to playing the game, for sure, after team doctors informed Gray on Saturday at the team's scrimmage that he was at risk for paralysis because of a lower back and spine injury that has kept him from practicing since July 26.

"I basically had to agree with them and call it a career," the offensive lineman said.

But Gray will continue to collect checks as both an on-field observer of the offensive line, which is what coach Mike Holmgren plans for Gray, and perhaps a job in marketing with the team, which is what he is discussing with team executives. The team will honor his contract for the season, which carries a $1.28 million base salary.

Monday, though, was Gray Day on a sunny late morning at team headquarters, as the 15-year NFL veteran — 11 of those as a Seahawk — announced his decision to retire.

"It's been a great run," Gray said. "I have no complaints, no regrets on where I've been and what I've done. It's been a fun career.

"My wife and kids have been great, and I couldn't risk being pushed around in a wheelchair or something after my 16th year."

Gray explained that he felt a pop in his back after hitting a blocking sled, something he has done for most of his life. He expected to miss the first exhibition game this week, then return in a couple of weeks. Gray had built his career on being an ironman. He is the team record-holder in consecutive regular-season games played, with 121.

Gray missed the 2006 regular-season finale at Tampa Bay but started every game last season. But then came the injury and subsequent diagnosis from team doctors.

"This was pretty much a stunner for everybody," Holmgren said. "He's one of the players, when I walk away I'll look back upon and say, 'He made it worthwhile for me to coach. That's why I coach, is a player like Chris Gray.' Because he has been a trooper. A loyal guy. Dependable. Tough. Better player than he got credit for. I'll miss him. I really will miss him."

Gray, 38, came to the Seahawks in 1998 from Chicago as a free agent. He started in Seattle as a center but moved to right guard in 2001.

"I wish I wouldn't have missed that one game against Tampa," Gray said. "Heck, [new right guard] Rob Sims or one of those guys will break it in a few years, so it's not a big deal."

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Gray said he still feels tingling in his legs and lower back soreness but expects to fully recover. After eight years as a full-time starter, including last season, he was slated to be a backup at center and guard this season.

The Seahawks never intended for Gray to be a starter for so long, trying year in and year out for the past several to replace him. But injuries and Gray's dependability and ability to stay healthy kept him in the lineup.

Now the Seahawks won't have Gray to call on anymore. And without both him and starting center Chris Spencer, who has a sore back, they are trying to get through training camp with second-year guard Steve Vallos as the No. 1 center and Ben Claxton, who was signed Sunday, as his backup.

"It was a problem before he [Gray] got hurt," Holmgren said. "I think everyone's going to come back, but right now it's tough."

The Seahawks placed Gray on injured reserve, ending his season, and brought back defensive tackle Kevin Brown, who was released the day camp started.

Notes

• DE Chris Cooper has been dealing with a sore knee and missed Monday morning's full-team practice. But TE Jeb Putzier was back after missing the past four days with a sore hip.

• OL Kyle Williams returned after missing a day with an injury from Saturday's scrimmage.

• Members of the Blue Angels flight crew watched practice, and got to meet Holmgren and Seahawks players Seneca Wallace, Bobby Engram, Courtney Taylor and Charlie Frye afterward.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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