"For me, personally, with all the time I've had with him, what makes it so sad for me is that he may not ever put a helmet on again," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who came into the league with Hardwick in 2004.
Rivers knows that decision is down the road. But Hardwick is 33 and in the final year of his contract. He contemplated retiring in the offseason before deciding to come back.
Hardwick will be replaced by Rich Ohrnberger, who's in his sixth NFL season and second with the Chargers.
"I was so sorry to hear it," said Ohrnberger, who will make his sixth career start Sunday when the Chargers (0-1) play their home opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (1-0). "He talked to me last night about it. While I'm excited for the opportunity, I would love to have him out there and be playing with him. It's a tough loss for the room, it's a tough loss for the team. But that's football. We've got to move forward."
By comparison, Hardwick had been the starter since his rookie season of 2004. Hardwick started all 136 games he has played in, including the last 67 straight.
Ohrnberger stepped in for Hardwick after he was hurt Monday night in an 18-17 loss at Arizona. Ohrnberger also replaced Hardwick early in a wild-card playoff victory at Cincinnati in January.
"It's the next-man up philosophy," Ohrnberger said. "What a boon to have a successful season learning from a guy like Nick. I've relied on him this past year and all through the offseason and I'll be using him as a source of advice this year, too."
"We're all upset," Ohrnberger said. "We wish it would have worked out differently. That's football. It's a great game. It's the people you fall in love with. You have guys like that show up and take over a program for a long time and become an important part of the community and the driving force of a team. This season is over, unfortunately."
Hardwick came out of Monday night's game with what was announced as an ankle injury.
"We had to make a decision yesterday. He had the ankle injury during the game and then he informed us of the stinger after the game was over and we came off the field," coach Mike McCoy said. "When I came in the locker room that's when I found that out. We're looking at the best interests of him and moving forward."
Rivers said it was tough losing Hardwick so early.
"We're just starting the season, you're so fired up, and obviously he and I, shoot, from a personal standpoint have been through so much, and we're looking forward to a heck of a year. It's always tough getting that news, about any of your teammates, but especially him because of how close we worked together and, shoot, how many games we've been out there together.
"I even told Rich, 'You know now how I feel about Nick and what I'm going to say about Nick and we're going to miss him. It's tough when you lose a guy that's been playing the way he's played center here for so long and how awesome he is in the preparation and protection. But I wanted Rich to know at the same time I believe in him and I think our team does, too. We believe Rich can do it."
Rivers and Ohrnberger do have some work to do. Rivers couldn't handle a shotgun snap from Ohrnberger on third-and-8 from the Arizona 29 with seven minutes left, forcing San Diego to punt on fourth-and-22 from the 43 while leading 17-12.
That set up a drive capped by John Brown's winning 13-yard touchdown reception from Carson Palmer with 2:25 left.https://twitter.com/KyleKraska/status/509801835381530624