By GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals inside linebacker Tom Tumulty retired this morning and, as always, it was never about the money.
"It's about Sunday morning butterflies and laughing in the locker room and being able to get old and enjoy your kids," said Tumulty, flexing the left knee that never got better. "I love the game too much to go through it like this. I didn't want to be one of those guys that was always in the training room limping around."
Tumulty's 19-month odyssey from reconstructive knee surgery ended with the flourish of his signature on a retirement letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. It ends a career that lasted just 31 games, but that's all it took for Tumulty to leave a legacy of toughness and work ethic that made him one of the most respected players in the locker room.
He wishes he had never ripped up his anterior cruciate and medial colateral ligaments in that Sunday night game in Baltimore on Sept. 27, 1998. But if it had to end, he was relieved it ended like this.
There would be no knock from The Turk at training camp. There would be no struggles with a new team in a strange city. There would be no second-guessing. He went home to Pittsburgh for Easter to ponder. When his parents said it was the happiest they had seen him since he got hurt, he knew he was leaning the right way.
"My Mom never wanted me to play and my Dad wasn't very happy with the idea of a 27-year-old limping," Tumulty said. "It's still sore. But now when I wake up in the morning and it hurts, I'm not stressed out. Some days it feels great. Other days it swells up and it's sore. Maybe I could have played a few snaps at a time, but that's not the way I want to play. If I could have done anything more ..."
He biked. He hiked. He ran with Lucky, his Golden Retriever. He did drills. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner is convinced if Tumulty can't come back from such an injury, then "nobody can. If there's any solace I know it's that he worked as hard as humanly possible to get back. I'm sad, but I know he did all that he could. I was lucky enough to coach a guy as bright, enthusiastic, tough and as physical as that guy."
Before Tumulty goes off into the Bengals' all-time roster, it should be recalled he was a good, productive player. A sixth-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 1996, Tumulty started 18 games and was the club's leading tackler when he went down in the first quarter of the fourth game in 1998.
Bengals President Mike Brown met with Tumulty this morning, calling him, "The kind of guy you love having on your team." Tumulty appreciates Brown signing him to a two-year deal last year, five months after surgery, and figures he'll still stop by often to visit.
"I love Cincinnati," Tumulty said. "I'll stay here for at least a couple of years. I've got a ton of lucrative opportunities and we've made a lot of friends."
Tumulty's wife, Christine, is a highly-regarded member of the faculty at Forest Hill's new Nagel Middle School, where she teaches math. Tumulty is an avid golfer and can often be seen on the courses around Anderson Township. He has experience with stocks and mutual funds and is looking at becoming a financial planner.
Before he made the call, Tumulty talked to everyone he could. He consulted with his good friend Tim Naehring, the Miami of Ohio product who had to retire from the Boston Red Sox because of injuries.
"I'll miss the locker room, high-fiving after a big play, getting tired with your buddies," Tumulty said. "(Naehring) said I'll miss that stuff, but that there's a lot more other stuff out there."
Tumulty was hurt when the Bengals were in their 3-4 defense. Now that it's a 4-3, Adrian Ross, Canute Curtis and Billy Granville are the top inside backer reserves behind Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons.