"Buddy Lee" is busted.
Injuries, age and death in his family have ended the career of Duce Staley, whose hard-nosed running often served as the best hope for Eagles teams of the late-1990s.
Now hobbled and humbled, Staley, sporting a new Mitchell & Ness vintage Eagles varsity jacket, yesterday announced his retirement in the city where his 10-year career flourished.
"I had a lot of great years here, made a lot of great friends," said Staley, whose teammates anointed him with the Lee Jeans doll who was so tough, like the jeans, you "Can't bust 'em."
Last year Staley, 32, endured the death of his father, Lannie, 55, of lung and stomach cancer, and the shocking death of his brother, Travis, who, at 25, died from a sudden onset of diabetes.
Staley was released by the Steelers a year ago after spending all but one game deactivated after three seasons there. Teams did not call him this season. His brother, always his greatest inspiration, was gone; his inspirational postgame phones calls had ended forever.
"The day I realized I would never get that phone call again," Staley said, "it was time for me to walk away from the game."
He officially walked away at halftime at Lincoln Financial Field, where he heard, one last time, the "Dooooooce" cheer - a cheer that he believed was booing the first time he heard it a decade ago, long before the pounding put him to pasture.
Staley still suffers from complications from a hamstring injury incurred in 2004 and a knee problem that hindered him in 2005. They are only the latest maladies.
Despite a hernia in 1998, a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot in 2000 and a shoulder injury in 2001, Staley persevered through some of the Eagles' leanest years of the past 3 decades. He then helped bring the Eagles to prominence but had his best seasons behind him by the time Brian Westbrook was ready to succeed him as the team's featured back.
He won a Super Bowl with the Steelers after the 2005 season, but, since leaving the Eagles, Staley has played in just 15 games, compiled 230 rushes and 12 receptions. Never has he said, "What if?"
"I'm a strong believer in 'Be thankful for what's in front of you,' " Staley said. "The cards I was dealt, I had to play them, regardless."
A third-round pick in 1997 who fretted over making the team, he played his cards with the Eagles into 4,807 rushing yards on 1,200 runs, both third on the team's all-time list. With 275 receptions, like his predecessor, Ricky Watters, Staley was a viable double threat.
That was never more apparent than in Staley's most memorable day, "The Dallas game."
His 201 rushing yards in the 2000 season opener at Dallas, the famed "Pickle Juice" game, is the second-highest single-game total. He accounted for 262 total yards that day, then the most in team history.
It came in 109-degree heat. Fortified by water laced with pickle juice, Staley launched the successful portion of the Donovan McNabb/Andy Reid era and carried it until Game 5 of that season, when the Lisfranc sprain threatened his career. Staley returned from the injury in 2001 and, in 2002, he was named team offensive MVP.
Rightfully, Staley considered himself valuable after that season and, entering the final season of his contract, he held out for 26 days in 2003. Already, Staley had a fractious relationship with Reid over Reid's unsuccessful courtship of Warrick Dunn in 2002.
Staley ended his holdout without an extension but, with Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter on the club, he received 132 touches in 2003, after which he left for Pittsburgh.
Always, Staley said, "My heart was here. My soul was here" - never more so than in 2004, when the Eagles finally made it to the Super Bowl without him.
"I really kind of broke down that year," Staley admitted.
Memories flooded back when he visited the team Saturday and saw Tra Thomas, McNabb, the running backs, the coaches and especially Brian Dawkins.
Staley has moved into a new career: He's part of a three-man team on "The Halftime Show," a daily 1 to 4 p.m. radio talk show in his hometown of Columbia, S.C. On it, he urges his listeners to appreciate what they have, the way he always has; that was his message to his former team Saturday as he, and the rest of the league, still shuddered from the slaying of Redskins safety Sean Taylor.
"Tell your teammates you love them," he said. "As men, we all suit up. We do pushups. We do curls. We squat. It's a constant battle from the domino table to the field. Being first in the lunch line.
"You never get a chance to tell your teammate, your friend, your partner you're going to fight that battle with, you love him," Staley said.
"You get a chance to look at what's going on in the world - you get a chance to look at what's going on with Sean Taylor.
"That situation - imagine how many teammates [wish] they got a chance to say, 'Sean, I love you.' You're here today, gone tomorrow." *