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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -The dull pain in Dan Morgan's shoulder wouldn't go away. His Achilles' tendon ached. Then there were the reminders of the five concussions.
Three months after he was released by the Carolina Panthers, Morgan was trying to coax his body into a new start with the New Orleans Saints. But Morgan kept looking around his house.
The speedy and strong linebacker, whose life for so long had been defined by football and little else, saw his two children and pregnant wife, due in three weeks with the couple's second daughter. He decided it was time to turn in his helmet for a job as full-time dad.
``Those things are a lot bigger than my football career will ever be,'' Morgan said Tuesday, a day after announcing his retirement at age 29. ``That's the most important thing in my life, and I just had to make sure my health is there and I'm there for my family. That's what it came down to.''
Morgan was upbeat as he talked from his cell phone, kids in tow. He seemed eager to begin his new life, far removed from the crushing hits that defined his career.
Morgan was Carolina's first-round pick in 2001 out of Miami. He could produce eye-popping games, like the way he played in the Panthers' Super Bowl loss to New England in the 2003 season. Morgan made the Pro Bowl a year later. He is the third-leading tackler in team history.
``It's hard to find somebody who loved football more than Dan Morgan,'' Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. ``He played at only one tempo, and that was full go. He played with tremendous heart. He was an extremely talented linebacker who made a difference for us when he was on the field.''
But Morgan played only 59 of 112 games in his seven seasons with the Panthers. There was a broken leg, a groin injury and a pulled hamstring. Then there were the frightening concussions, including two in 2006 that forced him to miss the final 15 games.
After countless neurological tests, Morgan was cleared to return last season and agreed to a pay cut to stay with Carolina. Wearing a special mouthpiece and helmet with extra padding, Morgan regained his starting position, only to suffer a partial tear in his right Achilles' tendon in the third week.
He had surgery and missed the final 13 games. Rookie Jon Beason replaced Morgan and thrived, leading the team in tackles. Morgan was released in February. He signed with the Saints, but his body had other ideas.
``One day it feels good and the next day it doesn't,'' Morgan said, referring to his Achilles' tendon. ``I've had two shoulder surgeries and that's still lingering. I've been getting stronger, but when it got hit again it was going to flare up and kill me the rest of the season. I had a lot of things going on and I think it was in my best interest not to play anymore.''
Morgan insists his decision was based on his achy body and not concerns over the long-term effects of his concussions.
``Concussions are obviously something I take seriously and that did play a factor,'' he said. ``But more than anything it was my body. My shoulder, my Achilles', I can deal with pain. But to me it was just not wanting to have to put my family through having to worry when I'm out there on the field.''
The Morgans recently sold their Florida home and plan to live in Charlotte. He's involved in several businesses, including day-care centers for dogs. He didn't rule out coaching, but isn't fond of the long hours - not with a third child on the way.
``You go to the next chapter of your life,'' Morgan said. ``I have beautiful kids, a beautiful wife and that's really what this life is about anyway.''
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