LAKE FOREST, IL - Chicago Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah announced his retirement from the National Football League on Thursday after a seven-year career highlighted by two post-season appearances and his selection to the Pro Bowl following a career-best 2003 season.
The native of Worchester, MA, started 49 of 105 career games played for the Bears, totaling 384 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, 42 pass break-ups and 42 special teams tackles. The third-leading kickoff returner in team history with 2,885 yards, Azumah averaged 24.2 yards on 119 career kickoff returns with two touchdowns. Drafted by Chicago in the fifth round (147th overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft, Azumah retires as the third-longest tenured player from the current Bears team behind Olin Kreutz and Patrick Mannelly.
Azumah began his NFL career in 1999 by converting from offense to defense, going from a record-breaking running back at the University of New Hampshire to a cornerback with Chicago.
A beloved teammate, Azumah was named the 1999 rookie recipient of the Brian Piccolo Award as the player best exemplifying the quality of the late Bears hero. While making the transition to defensive back, Azumah played in all 16 games as a rookie, making two starts and playing primarily in nickel situations and on special teams. He recorded 17 tackles in 1999, all in the last four games, and ranked fourth on the Bears with 20 special teams tackles. Starting four of 14 games played in 2000, Azumah posted his first career interception in the season-opener at Minnesota on Sept. 3. Starting five of 16 games played in 2001, his third season was highlighted by his first career touchdown on a 39-yard interception return in Chicago?s Divisional Playoff game against Philadelphia that gave the Bears a second-half lead. Starting all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2002, Azumah recorded a career-high 92 tackles. He posted 90 tackles and a career-high and team-leading four interceptions while starting 13 games in 2003. That season was his first as Chicago?s featured kickoff returner which saw him named to the Pro Bowl as he led the NFL with a 29.0-yard kickoff average, including touchdown returns of 89 and 88 yards.
Azumah started eight of 12 games played in 2004, totaling 56 tackles and ranking second on the team by equaling his career-high of four interceptions, including a 70-yard touchdown on Oct. 17 against Washington in his first game of the season after having off-season neck surgery. He returned a career-high 42 kickoffs in 2004, averaging 22.0 yards per return with a long of 73 yards. In 2005, Azumah played in 15 regular season games and Chicago?s post-season contest against Carolina. He totaled 45 tackles during the regular season while returning 32 kickoffs for a 22.0-yard average.
A three-time All-Conference selection, Azumah twice earned the league's Offensive Player of the Year Award (1996, 1998) and in 1998 became the first running back in Atlantic 10 history to be named the recipient of the prestigious Walter Payton Award. A three-time All-America selection by The Sports Network and the lone player in league annals to post four seasons of 1,000 rushing yards, Azumah holds eight Conference records, including career rushing touchdowns with 60.