Patriots’ Stephen Neal retires

Stephen Neal, one of the longest-tenured Patriots and a starter at right guard, has announced his retirement after 10 seasons in New England.

The Patriots confirmed the news in a release after it was first reported by ESPN Boston; a conference call is scheduled for tomorrow.

Neal, 34, played eight games last season before a shoulder injury ended his season Dec. 2.

Neal, who did not play football in college but was a dominant wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield, joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2001.

Shoulder injuries have plagued Neal throughout his career, including one that caused him to miss the entire 2003 season.

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He emerged as a starter in the third week of the 2004 season, starting 14 games as the Patriots went on to win their third Super Bowl in four years.

Neal nearly retired last offseason but signed a two-year contract last March.

In honor of Neal, here’s video of his gold-medal winning match from the 1999 World Wrestling Championship – that year, he was recognized by FILA, the sport’s governing body, as the world’s best. Neal retired from wrestling the next year, after missing out on a chance to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics.