Foster: 'It has meant everything'

The letter he posted to his Instagram account, along with two photos, was simple.

It was just eight words, and you had to swipe through a few pics in his IG post to get to it.

"I hereby notify the Steelers I am retiring."

But the message Ramon Foster delivered along with the letter and images, it was much deeper, much more emotional and heartfelt.

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When the time comes, you just know and now is a time for me to take a bow. I’ve had a long, fun and life changing career. Who would have ever thought an undrafted kid out of the University of Tennessee would make it in the NFL for 11 years. I’ve made some friends for a lifetime, had some moments that I’ll never forget and seen some things I never thought I would because of this game. I’d like to first thank my wife for supporting me through this experience and I know for sure you are my number 1 fan. My sons, who were raised in this league from birth so far, they went from being the youngest in the locker room to the oldest. To the Steelers organization, thank you to Coach Tomlin, Mr. Rooney, Ambassador Rooney, and Kevin Colbert for making Pittsburgh feel like a family. All the coaches who I’ve had the opportunity to run into or be coached by in the organization, thank you. To the staff, secretaries, cooks, janitors, John Norwig and his training staff for caring the way you guys have, Coach Giemont and Marcell for always being who you guys are, I love it. My trainer James Wilson, thanks for getting me ready every year even though I hated you everyday lol. Father Paul, thanks for always being a friend and support since the time I met you at St. Vincent in Latrobe, PA. The guys who I’ve played with over the years, I love you guys like brothers but of course Pouncey, Ben, Al, Dave and Gil(I know he’s not there but he’s an OG) we all grew up together and I’ve enjoyed every minute of that. From being one of the “worst” OLs in the league to having one of the best OLs in all of sports while helping lead one of the best offenses in the NFL. To the fans thank you for being the best fan bases in the world, the passion comes out in all kind of ways. I could go on and on and will thank a lot of you personally. I’m glad to say, a Steeler for life, no other organization I would have rather played for and I hope my time was just as enjoyable as yours. Young guys, enjoy what you can get from this league, don’t just play the game, learn the game, learn the business and be better than when you came into this league. A time will come when we all write up a farewell 2 this chapter

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After 11 seasons of joy and happiness, of laughs and tears, Foster is stepping away from the game he loves so much. It wasn't an easy decision, not by a long shot. But it was a decision he knew was right at this time.

"It's more than the fact of making the decision, it's just one of those decisions that nobody wants to make," said Foster during an exclusive interview. "As an athlete and competitor, you always think you have something left. That is always the determining factor. It's when do you say when more than anything.

"You have conversations with family. I have had this conversation with my wife (Kesha). I talked it over a little with my boys (R.J. and Myles) to try and prepare them in a sense. You listen to your body; you listen to your mind. If the conversations you have with your loved ones are right, it's okay to bow out. My oldest son got it better than my young one. He was like, 'We're done.' He gave me that type of expression. It's cool for them in that they both got an opportunity to see and watch me do what I do as a professional athlete. They were literally raised in this league from birth. They got a chance to see it and understand it. That is one of the coolest takes."

Before he took to Instagram to share the news with Steelers Nation and the rest of the world, he reached out to his other family. His teammates. He sent the heartfelt message he was planning on sharing publicly with them, mainly the offensive line, giving them a little bit of a heads up on it.

"When I showed them my farewell roundup, they were like wow more than anything," said Foster. "Everyone is like that it's not true, but everybody knows the reality of the game ends itself for everybody. (Maurkice) Pouncey got emotional. Al (Villanueva) and Dave (DeCastro) the same thing. I talked to some of our coaches about it. It's the same tune across the board. Disbelief in a sense, but an understanding it had to happen at some point.

"Nobody is ready when you attach yourself to an organization and the people for that long. Even yourself. We see each other every morning coming into the building. We all have to wean ourselves from that in a sense."

But that weaning off of something that you have been doing for 11 years, something that has become routine, something that has become part of your everyday life, isn't as simple as it sounds.

"It's the norm," said Foster. "It's the norm of walking into the building, punching in the key code, waiting for the gates to open. Finding a new norm is going to be the thing. Football has been a part of my life since the sixth grade. To see that phase of my life is kind of cool to see be done, because you have done it for so long. From the other spectrum of it we have to find out what is up."

There are so many things Foster is going to miss about playing football, so many memories he has, but they all point back to two key things. His teammates and the game they play together.

Take a look at some of the greatest photos of Ramon Foster during his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers

"The guys, the locker room. Definitely," said Foster. "That and game day. That was always the biggest thing. You do everything to get to game day. To say I wouldn't miss it, I'd be lying about that part of it.

"Just honestly, the jokes and the locker room mentality that guys have. That is always going to be the biggest side of it.

"Some of my best memories are the guys. I think the phases of it. Being a young guy who was following guys like Willie Colon, Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, those guys who brought you in and to transition over into a guy who was in the middle of his career to where you become an older guy. I think the different phases I had. Seeing the guys come and go and the relationships of guys that you have on your team that go to other teams. Those types of relationships are more important than anything else. If I could say anything, of course playing in the Super Bowl was one of the coolest football moments. I honestly think the phases I played the game was by far one of the coolest. The young, inexperienced dumb guy to the guy everybody comes to in a sense if anything was going on, if they had questions. I took pride in that."

And some of the best advice goes to the youngest players on the team, including players that came into the league like he did, as an undrafted rookie free agent.

"I would tell those guys to maximize everything. Soak in everything that is put in front of you," said Foster. "Don't just be a pawn in the sense that you are waiting for an opportunity. Make your opportunity before anything. It's been over a decade, but it went by so fast. Soak up all of the memories you have. Never take for granted the opportunity that is in front of you. There are a lot of things that come and go in the league. But the opportunity that is in front of you is the most important moment. Don't think it's just going to happen. You have to make it happen a lot of the times."

While there is plenty Foster will miss, there is another aspect to it. It's that he will be missed. It's impossible to measure the impact he has on the Steelers' locker room. He is a voice of calm, a big brother, a father figure, a friend, a confidant, a trusted mentor and a guiding light. It's that advice that he provides to everyone.

His teammates have said continuously through the years, from rookies to veterans, they all love and respect him. There is no doubt the locker room will miss him.

"It's cool," said Foster of how his teammates feel. "To be on the ride for that long and to have younger guys like year one guys say that about you. I always joked with the guys and said when I leave here, never let them talk bad about me. That was one of my things I took pride in. I always tried to reach back to guys. If you came to me about anything, I tried to extend my arm to help you out or get you to a person to help you. That is what I always tried to do. I didn't care if you were in competition with me at my position or at another position. Like Rosie Nix is one of my best friends in the world. That is a telltale sign of that. It didn't matter if you were a quarterback like Devlin (Hodges) was this year who was a young guy. I just wanted to make sure you had understanding of what is to come and what this league is."

While Foster doesn't know what the future will hold for him, whether it's something in the corporate world or football world, there is one thing he knows, he will always have a love for Steelers Nation and their love and support.

"It has meant everything," said Foster. "Game day is one of the best because, aside from the competition aspect of it, it's the fans. You knew they were going to be there. Coming off the exit and they are already tailgating. They were always going to be there. They never wavered. They supported you. I appreciate them more than anything. This day and age with social media you form relationships with them. You get to know them, they know you. It becomes a family."

And Foster will always be a part of the Steelers family.