Speaking from California on a conference call with reporters, Neal said he has been rehabbing the shoulder that led to him being placed on injured reserve last season, but doctors told him that another injury could lead to him requiring replacement surgery - "I'm good with my parts," he joked - and also wanted to be able to throw a ball to his son and two daughters.
In an opening statement, Neal thanked his wrestling coaches at Cal-Bakersfield, where he was a four-time All-American, as well as his agent, Neil Cornrich, coaches Bill Belichick and Dante Scarnecchia, New England owner Robert Kraft, the media and fans, whom he called the greatest in the country.
He also thanked his family, including wife Jody, who "put everything down in Bakersfield to follow me out here to New England, raising our beautiful girls and our stubborn copy of myself, our son. My family is my new team and I hope we go undefeated for the rest of our lives."
Asked what memory stands out about his career, the 34-year old pointed to two: his first start, against Green Bay, in 2002, and the belief Tom Brady showed in him and every other player in the huddle, and being able to play in the Pats' Super Bowl win over Philadelphia at the end of the 2004 season.
"They don't come any better than Steve Neal,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in a statement distributed by the team. “In terms of improvement and development as a player, Steve may have accomplished more than any player I have ever been around. His toughness, intelligence and competitiveness were at rare levels and all contributed to him going from being a champion in an individual sport to being an integral part of championship teams. I congratulate Steve for an incredible career and thank him for everything he did for me personally, our team and organization."