HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Hanging up the cleats is one of the toughest days of any athlete's life. For Newport News native Antoine Bethea, that time has come after spending 14 years in the National Football League.
"Coming into this season I kinda had it made up in my mind that whether if I played or I didn’t play, this year would be that last season for me," Bethea, who spent the past season as the league's active career tackles leader with 1,333, said. "Told my self 14 years has been good and now is the time."
After spending time with the Colts, 49ers, Cardinals and Giants, Bethea has 14 years of success to look back on and sums it up with the word: "Fun.
"It was a fun time. Relationships and just experiences and being able to play a kid's game and a game that I love. It was a fun time."
The most fun an NFL player can have is celebrating a Super Bowl win under a shower of confetti, something Bethea got to experience his first year in the league when the Colts won a championship in 2007.
"I just remember that season still like it was yesterday," Bethea said. "Off the top of my head I'd have to definitely say the Super Bowl is my favorite moment in the league."
Playing in the NFL, let alone winning a Super Bowl, isn't something he always thought to be possible and it wasn't until the Denbigh High School product left Newport News when he realized he had what it takes to play in the league.
"It took some time," Bethea said. "I think for a lot of young kids growing up in that area, especially when I was growing up you’ve seen Michael Vick, you've seen [Allen Iverson], you’ve seen a lot of guys from the neighborhoods that look like yours make it.
"Obviously it’s a dream, but I don’t think it was set in my mind that it was a possibility for me until I got to college, probably my second year at Howard, and that’s when it kind of became for me, okay, this is an opportunity and a chance that I could really get to. I think that’s when it really set in for me.”
Bethea was drafted by Indianapolis in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft and went on to play for Indianapolis for eight seasons, San Francisco for three seasons, Arizona for two seasons and the New York Giants during the 2019 season.
Just like his first year in the league, which resulted in a Super Bowl victory, Bethea celebrates. But now, it's a celebration of 14 years of success in the NFL.