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Bobby Hebert ponders retirement after 11-year NFL career

December 10, 1996 GMT

SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) _ The hits are starting to take a toll on Atlanta quarterback Bobby Hebert, who conceded Monday that he might retire at the end of the season rather than endure another year of punishment.

``Sometimes it just feels like I’ve been in a bad car wreck,″ said the 36-year-old Hebert, who has played surprisingly well since taking over from Jeff George. ``I wake up on Monday and it’s like, man, I’ve got a whiplash injury or something. I just ache. I always ached, but it just seems to last longer now.″

Hebert has taken so much punishment in his 11-year NFL career that there’s a section in the team’s media guide devoted entirely to his medical history: four knee operations, eight broken ribs, eight concussions, elbow surgery and shoulder injuries.

Hebert also must get some work done on his false teeth _ three real ones were knocked out by in a 1989 game _ and he needs a minor hernia operation, as well.

``Sometimes you might get to the point where you say, `Shoot, I’m just tired of getting beat up,‴ he said. ``That’s the way I play. I hang in there tough and I’m not going to be scared to bail out.″

Hebert, who took over as the Falcons starting quarterback in the fourth game after George was suspended (and eventually waived), has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 3-11 season.

He is completing more than 60 percent of his passes for 2,617 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. With two games remaining, his numbers are likely to wind up comparable to his 1993 Pro Bowl season.

``He’s proven to me that he can still play,″ coach June Jones said. ``I’m sure he is frustrated with losing, as we all are.″

The Falcons have no clear-cut options at quarterback should Hebert decide to quit. The backups are Browning Nagle and Billy Joe Tolliver, both journeymen players who aren’t considered potential starters.

With a 31-15 victory over New Orleans on Sunday, Atlanta is virtually assured of not getting the top pick in the draft, which might have been used on Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

``I’ll always be interested in having Bobby Hebert back,″ Jones said, for obvious reasons. ``He’s a winner. As long as I’m coaching, he can play for me.″

Of course, it’s not known if Jones will be back next season, which is another reason Hebert might ponder retirement. Also, Hebert doesn’t want to end up like Dave Krieg, a longtime starter in Seattle who has bounced around to four different teams the past five seasons.

Then there’s the money. Hebert, who has a one-year deal with the Falcons for $800,000, would want a starter’s salary to take a starter’s punishment next season. But it’s doubtful that Atlanta will be able to give him a significant raise because of the salary cap.

Hebert’s wife, Teresa, is pushing him toward retirement. She first discussed the idea with him during the preseason, then brought it up again after he endured a brutal game at Detroit on Oct. 6.

``Why do most people have to get out of football? Either they’re not playing well ... or they have a career-ending injury,″ Hebert said. ``Why can’t you just (retire)? When I’m 50 or 55, I want to be able to do stuff with my family.″

Hebert, who has thrown for more than 32,000 yards in his professional career, stressed that he has not made a final decision.

``I’m just waiting till the season is over,″ he said. ``I’ll pray about it and talk to my wife. I haven’t said for sure that I’m going to do this or that.″