Nick Hardwick wasn’t just in the NFL.
He was what the NFL wished in all its players.
Hardwick, the Chargers’ center, retired and the game isn’t better because of it.
Eleven years ago Hardwick appeared with Philip Rivers, fresh-faced draft picks facing a room full of media.
“I think they were mostly there to see Philip,’’ Hardwick reflected.
But that wasn’t the case Tuesday as current and former Chargers, coaches and front-office folks said goodbye to Hardwick.
“Guys like this don’t come around very often,’’ coach Mike McCoy said in between sniffles. “They really don’t.’’
It was a tough, but joyous, day. It was emotional. It was one speaker after another trying to stiff-arm tears.
“I’m not going to be able to do it,’’ Rivers said, and here came the halting voice and long pauses.
Hardwick’s departure because of neck injuries hit hard, although it wasn’t unexpected. After being forced from the season opener, Hardwick’s dramatic weight loss proved he was done.
Hardwick’s career shows he was a Pro Bowler, a three-time Chargers offensive lineman of the year and on its 50th anniversary team.
If Rivers was the aw-shucks, southern kid, Hardwick was the Mid-western monster. The two blended like peanut butter and jelly, able to finish each other sentences or say volumes with a look.
“There was a special bond, in a football aspect, that I don’t know if it can be duplicated,’’ Rivers said. “It will never be the same and I speak for every teammate that he ever had.
“We will really miss Nick the football player, but Nick the man the most. We love you, man.’’
That goes for scores of children deserving better, too.
Hardwick was tireless in his work with the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. It’s for kids whose parent gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving others. They had a friend in Hardwick as he helped raise dough for their college costs.
Good dude, that Hardwick. That’s why so many were reaching for Kleenex.
Seeing macho football players get teary told of their respect for Hardwick.
The biggest compliment for any player is being called a good teammate and Hardwick was that and more.
Hardwick and Rivers were also the Chargers’ Siskel and Ebert. They burned endless hours watching video, striving to get an edge.
“That was a reason for my successful career is that I spent so much time in that room with him,” Hardwick said. “That was my favorite part and that is what I’m going to miss.”
We’ll miss seeing No. 61 hitching his pants, pointing out blocking assignments while barking out adjustments.
Hardwick was pro’s pro and despite his position, never the center of position — until Tuesday.
Come Monday, he’ll start with KGB radio on its afternoon-drive show. Get ready for plenty of The Band, Neil Young and Pearl Jam and what’s wrong with that?
Just like there’s nothing askew going through life with Hardwick’s attitude.
“What a party this has been,’’ he said. “I’ve had the time of my life.’’
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports