Allen Park — From the moment he stepped to the podium at the Lions practice facility Thursday until the end of his brief speech, tears slowly streamed down Stephen Tulloch’s face.
The linebacker formally announced his retirement after 11 seasons.
Tulloch played for three teams during those 11 seasons, including a one-year stint in Philadelphia last year, but he was at his best while in Detroit, 2011-15.
“Coming here in 2011 as a free agent was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” Tulloch said.
Tulloch averaged 119 tackles his first three seasons and added 107 in his fifth and final season with the organization, despite a diminished role coming back from a torn ACL.
But for everything Tulloch gave the Lions on the field, he arguably had a bigger impact in the Detroit community.
“Not only was he an outstanding player, he was a better man off the field,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “You never had to worry about what he did after he left the building. He was a model citizen, in every respect, but he also found a heart for the city of Detroit and did a tremendous job.”
For his charitable works, Tulloch was named the team’s Robert Porcher Man of the Year four consecutive years. His efforts largely focused on the city’s youth. Corresponding with his jersey number, he adopted 55 community schools. He also was heavily involved in working with families dealing with cancer.
Among those attending Tulloch’s retirement was the mother of Ryan Kennedy, a 10-year-old boy Tulloch befriended before he died of cancer in 2012, as well the family of a second boy, Eric Dean, who was recently informed he was cancer-free.
Tulloch’s mother, Mercedes, was also on hand.
“Without her, none of this is possible,” Tulloch said. “She pushed me to be a better person, a better player, to never forget where I come from and to give back to the less fortunate. That’s why I am who I am today.”
After 27 years of playing football, Tulloch said he’s grateful to be stepping away on his terms. While he expressed interest in going into coaching at some point, he’ll turn his immediate attention to continuing his philanthropic work.
“One chapter is closed in my career, but I’m able to say that I gave everything I had every day — in practice, on the field, off the field — and I have no regrets walking away from the game of football,” he said.
On Friday he’s flying to Haiti, with a group that includes Cliff Avril and Marshawn Lynch, to work on building homes and schools. Tulloch also plans to help build an elementary school in his mother’s hometown in Jamaica.
Beyond that, Detroit will remain will remain a focal point of his giving.
“That’s what motivates me,” Tulloch said. “It’s not all about the accolades, statistics, but about the impact you have on people’s lives.”
Caldwell, who introduced Tulloch, closed his comments by reference the famous Jackie Robinson quote: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
“I think, without question, Stephen’s life personifies that particular quote,” Caldwell said. “No one impacted more lives in this community than he did.”