Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego first reported the news Monday afternoon.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com provided a photo of an emotional Philip Rivers, who looked on as Hardwick announced his retirement:
Gehlkin also noted on Twitter that Hardwick had undergone a significant weight loss since the start of this season:
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was on hand at the announcement to pay tribute to his snapper, according to U-T San Diego's Tom Krasovic:
Hardwick only appeared in one regular-season game in 2014. The Chargers placed him on injured reserve in September after he suffered a neck injury.
At the time of the announcement, San Diego general manager Tom Telesco spoke to the team's website about how much Hardwick had meant to the team up to that point in his career:
Nick is one of the best, if not the best, at his position to ever play for the Chargers. In my 20 years in the NFL, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around. We’ll miss him in the lineup, but we have complete confidence in Rich (Ohrnberger) and the other players to step up and do the job.
U-T San Diego's Kevin Acee commented on how Hardwick's departure affected him and the fans emotionally:
Hardwick arrived in San Diego via the 2004 draft, which was the same year the Chargers traded for Rivers.
Over the years, the two have built a very strong bond; Hardwick is essentially the only center Rivers has known. After Hardwick was placed on IR in September, Rivers wore his No. 61 on the back of his helmet in a game against the Seattle Seahawks as a tribute.
Hardwick started 136 games for the Chargers over a span of 11 seasons. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and was named to San Diego's 50th anniversary team in 2009.
Rich Ohrnberger would seemingly be the likeliest replacement for Hardwick at this point, but he's a free agent this offseason, so the Chargers might decide to go in a different direction altogether.
Whatever they do, they'll have a hard time finding someone to replicate the impact Hardwick made on the squad.