Ricardo Lockette walked into the auditorium where moments later he would announce his retirement from football, and paused on his way to the stage to notice the huge crowd of Seahawks teammates, coaches and team employees that filled the room in addition to the usual media contingent.
"We all we got," Lockette yelled to his teammates.
"We all we need," they responded in unison.
Thursday's retirement press conference for Lockette, which occurred six months after he suffered what unfortunately turned out to be a career-ending neck injury in Dallas, was the kind of event usually reserved for a retiring Hall of Fame-caliber player, not someone who made one career start over five seasons in the NFL. It was an illustration of the fact that you'll be hard-pressed to ever find a football player with 22 catches for 451 yards and four touchdowns who is more beloved by teammates, coaches and fans than Lockette, and that's because those 22 catches for 451 yards and four touchdowns don't begin to define what Lockette meant to the Seahawks
"He really was the embodiment of the spirit," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We talk about our style—it's about great effort, great enthusiasm, great toughness and playing smart—that was Ricardo…almost."
Carroll couldn't help but laugh as he finished that thought, noting that Lockette, who was known to earn the occasional post-whistle penalty, "wasn't always playing the smartest because he was so tough and so crazy at times, but he just embodied our style and our spirit, and everybody knew it and everybody appreciated him so much. There was never anybody that made more great plays in practice than Ricardo. We talk about practice is everything that's so important. He was a great practice player. His first couple years, he was the highlight film coming out of camps. We always show the guys before the first game the highlights of camp and he was always the highlight film. He just embodied everything that we wanted to get across to the guys and really coming out of nowhere. He didn't have a great college career. He had a very, very limited college career. He was a great track runner. So he came a million miles and everyone knew that and always appreciated that."
Lockette had to wipe away tears a few times during a highlight video that preceded his press conference, but he was composed afterward for 20-plus minutes reflecting on his career, the injury that forced him to retire, and the relationships he built with so many of the players and coaches sitting in the room.
"It's not a sad day for me," Lockette said, sitting with his parents, Earl Sr. and Felita, his brother Earl Jr., and his girlfriend Jamaica Terry. "Life goes on. I never really wanted to be an Olympic track star or an NFL player. I just wanted to be great, I wanted to be great at something. I wanted to make my family proud. And hopefully I've done that."
Even if Thursday wasn't a sad day for Lockette, that doesn't mean he won't miss the moments he shared with teammates for four seasons in Seattle—Lockette also spent one year in San Francisco on the 49ers practice squad in 2012—both in the locker room and on the field.
"The locker room, my boys, the road trips, the videos coach Carroll prepared for us before the games, the speeches," Lockette said when asked what he would miss most. "Breaking that huddle before the game, the kickoff team when we say, 'Hey, we're kicking off,' and we're loading up, and then the boys are running around and the whole team is jumping, and then we're in the middle and you know what's about to happen. We're about to go. We've been preparing for this all week and this is it, and the 12th Man is as loud as you can imagine. Hair is standing up on my skin and chill bumps, but there's no fear. There's no fear, and I'm looking at the guy I have to defeat and he knows exactly what's going to happen, I know exactly what's going to happen and I make it happen. That's what I'm going to miss."
That Lockette carved out a five-year career for himself is testament not just to his athletic ability, but also his work ethic and desire that allowed him to thrive despite a limited playing career at Division II Fort Valley State. Lockette was a better track athlete than football player in college—he won a D-II national title in the 200-meter dash—but when his Olympic dreams fell short, he said he spent three nights sleeping in his car deciding what to do next. This was news to Lockette's parents, by the way, with Felita raising an eyebrow in surprise as he told the story.
"I tried to go to the Olympics and that didn't quite work out, so I slept in my car for like three or four days," Lockette said. "And I didn't tell my parents this, but I didn't want to go home. I didn't want to go home because I didn't want to seem like a failure. So I called my coach from college and I said, 'Hey man, just give me one shot.' He said, 'You got one year, you sat out, what makes you think...' So I said, 'I can do it. I'll go to the NFL.'"
And indeed Lockette did make it in the NFL, first on Seattle's practice squad before ending the year on the active roster, then with San Francisco for a year. In 2013, Lockette returned to Seattle and established himself as a key special teams player, helping the Seahawks win one Super Bowl and appear in another, meaning that including his time with the 49ers, Lockette was part of three straight Super Bowl teams.
"That's pretty crazy," Lockette said. "Coach Carroll told me, 'Do you realize what you've done? You went to three Super Bowls back to back.' That's like going to the corner store and hitting the lottery three days straight. It doesn't happen."
Lockette's career ended earlier than it should have, the result of one unfortunate hit in Dallas last fall. The neck injury he suffered required surgery, and titanium plates now help hold together vertebrae in his neck, but Lockette has no regrets about the way he played or how his career ended, saying, "You live by the sword, you die by the sword," a reference to the many hard blows he dished out on special teams. Lockette made his peace with Jeff Heath, the Cowboys safety who delivered the fateful hit while Lockette ran down field on punt coverage, almost immediately after the injury, calling Heath from the hospital before going into surgery that night.
"I said, 'Heath, I respect you,'" Lockette said. "You're a great player. I watched you all week. I studied you and looked forward to playing you.' ... It was an honor. I feel like he is a warrior and I told him, 'Keep playing with the same passion, keep playing with the same passion. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.'"
Lockette has also made peace with his decision to retire. He admits to having had his "why me?" moments, but retirement wasn't a hard decision for Lockette because, "I love my family and I'd rather be able to walk."
Lockette goes into retirement as a 29-year old uncertain about his future, but he has big plans, even if he doesn't know exactly what it will all look like just yet.
"Whatever the next step for me is, I'm not quite sure what it is, and I'm not embarrassed to say that, because I feel like I have time," he said. "I'm only 29. But I know what I will do. I will dedicate my time to helping those in need—the homeless, battered women, domestic violence, fighting against that. Just speaking to as many kids as I possibly can, because I think that's where it all starts. It starts with the kids. People wonder why this is going on in the world and why that's going on in the world, and it starts with the kids. It starts from their mind-frame.
"These guys in here aren't my worries," Lockette continued, referring to his teammates in the room. "My worries are the woman who's in a shelter with her kids who doesn't have anywhere to go. My worry is the guy who has a PhD degree that's on the corner right now that just needs a little confidence, a little help. Or that kid in school that's being bullied or teased that could grow up to find a cure for cancer. That's my focus."
Lockette may not know what his future holds, but he ended his press conference with an upbeat prediction, "Whatever it is, it's going to be great, so stay tuned."
Former Seahawks wideout Ricardo Lockette announced his retirement from the NFL on May 12, 2016. Take a look back at his best photos in a Seattle uniform.