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Ex-Bears receiver Johnny Knox gives up fight to play football

Johnny Knox wide receiver was recently terminated by Chicago Bears. Knox taked about his plans for future an exclusive interview.

Johnny Knox, wide receiver, was recently terminated by the Chicago Bears. Knox taked about his plans for the future in an exclusive interview. Photographed on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: February 13, 2013 10:29PM



Johnny Knox looks like he’s in game-shape when he appears in the dimly-lit entrance of a Chicago hotel restaurant Wednesday morning.

Except the always lean receiver walks with a limp, and he struggles to sit or stand comfortably, the lingering effects of a devastating hit he endured at Soldier Field 13 ½ months ago.

Yet Knox counts his blessings and not his challenges, even as he exclusively tells the Sun-Times that his football career is over.

“As an athlete, you don’t want to give up, you want to keep on fighting. That’s how I’ve always been,” Knox says. “But it’s been on my heart for a while. I know how my body feels, and I know I’m not going to be the same and perform at the ability that I used to.

“So I’m moving on and going forward.”

That’s a “hard pill to swallow” for the 26-year-old who prided himself on his underdog story, one that started at Tyler Junior College in 2005 and culminated with a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii as a kickoff returner just five years later. He flashed his potential as a receiver during the 2010 season, finishing just 40 yards shy of 1,000, and he regained his starting spot after the club tabbed Roy Williams as a starter in 2011.

But toward the end of the 2011 season, Knox experienced one of the highlights of his life and the lowlight of his life in the span of a week.

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THE HIT

On Dec. 13, 2011, Knox and his wife SanDerriqua welcomed the arrival of their second child, Johnny Knox III.

Knox planned to help with their daughter, arrange furniture, shuffle around gifts and boxes, whatever SanDerriqua needed.

But in the third to last game, after a 17-yard catch against the Seattle Seahawks, Knox was drilled in the back by defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. He moved his legs, realizing he wasn’t paralyzed, but he was overwhelmed by pain just lying on the grass.

“When they turned me over,” Knox says, “that was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

His close friend and marketing agent Bill Horn accompanied Knox on the ambulance ride to the hospital.

“You were screaming for them to get those pads off you,” Horn recalls.

“I remember that,” Knox says. “It was a bumpy ride.”

He underwent spinal fusion surgery the next day.

Knox has diligently rehabbed, pushing himself to return to the field to continue his career. But there’s no telling when – or if – the nerves will ever respond. The only time he’s not in pain is when he’s flat on his back.

Still, he’s proud of how far he’s come, even if he’s not an elite athlete again.

“I was centimeters away from being paralyzed, so just sitting here and talking, I’m appreciative of that,” he says. “Just the hard work that I had to put in. Just to be able to stay in and do everything in my daily life that I used to do.”

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FAITH AND FUTURE

Knox wasn’t surprised when general manager Phil Emery informed him of his release Tuesday morning at Halas Hall.

In fact, he was thankful for the way the Bears treated him, paying him his full salary for 2012 and allowing him to remain a part of the team.

“It was something that I’ve prepared myself for throughout the season,” says Knox, who failed a physical immediately after the 2012 season. “I knew it was going to come one day so there were no hard feelings toward the Bears.”

During rehab, Knox admitted to some “crocodile tears,” and “Why me?” moments. But he puts his faith in God, believing that football isn’t his identity.

“God has better plans for me,” Knox says. “He wouldn’t put me in a situation that I couldn’t handle. I have a lot of opportunities out there. I got some nice things going on so I’m just looking forward to that.”

Knox plans to remain in the Chicago area with his wife and two children, and he is currently an investor in the launch of a new supplement company, Healthy 74. Horn says he’s been approached by some spinal injury-related foundations about partnering up with Knox, and he’s finalizing some goodwill trips. He is scheduled to join a handful of NFL players, including former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, on a trip to Uganda with Pros for Africa and Starkey – the maker of hearing aids – in March. Then, in May, along with the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Family Foundation, he will visit troops abroad with former Bears players.

“It’s time to retire and move onto the next chapter,” Horn says of his friend’s future, “and it will be an incredible chapter.”

During the interview Wednesday, Knox is upbeat and smiles frequently.

Asked how he remains so optimistic, Knox says, “My whole life, I’ve always been positive, and people ask me, ‘Man, why are you so positive?’

“But I know things will work out for the best.”

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