Defensive end Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets, who created headlines with his “sack dance” and his romance with actress Brigitte Nielsen, told the team Thursday that he doesn’t want to play football anymore.
Gastineau said he quit because Nielsen is ill.
“My relationship with Brigitte Nielsen was the primary reason I returned to football this year, and for whatever succes I enjoyed,” he said at the airport in Phoenix. “Her sudden illness, for which we are now seeking medical treatment, has caused me to put into perspective my career and the things that are most important to me in my life.
“I hope everyone will understand this decision and wish us well.”
The New York Times quoted the actress in a telephone interview as saying she has cancer and that was the reason Gastineau retired.
“I have cancer of the uterus,” Nielsen said, according to the newspaper. “I’m trying to handle this in a positive way. We’re going to decide how we’ll deal with this.”
A team spokesman said Gastineau, who was leading the AFC in sacks with 7, met with Coach Joe Walton Tuesday and told him about his plans.
“Joe asked him to take a day or two to think about it,” the spokesman said.
Gastineau, 31, called Walton before practice Thursday and informed him of his decision.
“It caught a few people off guard,” the spokesman said.
Rookie Paul Frase will replace Gastineau in the starting lineup Sunday when the Jets play the Dolphins at Miami. Tom Baldwin, a converted defensive tackle, also will see extra time at end.
Gastineau, a 6-foot 5-inch, 275-pound player from East Central Oklahoma, was a second-round draft choice in 1979. He set a National Football League record with 22 sacks in 1984, when he was named the league’s defensive player of the year. Gastineau also was the most valuable player in the 1984 Pro Bowl with 4 sacks, 7 tackles and a safety.
He had 13 1/2 sacks the following season but then went into a two-year slump when his sack total was only 6 1/2.
Gastineau has been a controversial figure on and off the field.
His exuberant “sack dances” after tackling quarterbacks angered opponents and even upset some of his teammates, who considered him a showoff. The sack dance was banned by the NFL before the 1984 season.
Gastineau also received a lot of attention when he began dating Nielsen, former wife of actor Sylvester Stallone.
They are scheduled to be married as soon as Gastineau’s divorce from his first wife, Lisa, is final. Gastineau and his wife have been separated since 1986.
Gastineau infuriated many of his teammates last season when he crossed the picket line during the strike. One teammate spat on him as he drove into the Jet training camp, triggering a brief melee in which punches were exchanged and Gastineau’s shirt was ripped.