LAKE FOREST, IL - JUNE 12: (L-R) Johnny Knox #13, Brian Urlacher #54 and Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears chat during a minicamp practice at Halas Hall on June 12, 2012 in Lake Forest, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Brian Urlacher is a 34-year-old man. A 34-year-old man who regularly takes pain-killing injections and lies to doctors about his concussions. A 34-year-old man who's spent a lot of his career playing hurt.
And now, he's trying to hurry back from arthroscopic knee surgery. He ended last year with MCL and PCL strains.
It's not natural to spend years of your life as a human battering ram. Not counting his rookie year, Urlacher has racked up 1,161 tackles. Imagine slamming your body into a wall more than a thousand times over a decade. Something's bound to rattle loose. One wonders if too many hits led to his unfortunate dating choices. Or the fact that he's always on the sidelines these days.
No one doubts Urlacher's toughness. No one doubts his will to win. But Father Time is undefeated.
At some point, every athlete needs to switch from all-out abandon to conscious maintenance. From there, he just needs to decide when his ability to play no longer matches the skill level he demands of himself.
Is Urlacher there?
Look at someone like Ray Lewis, who is three years older. He knows he's slower, and he's adjusted his game. His team has also supplied lots of complimentary parts over the years to ease his burden. Ray can still make a tackle, he just doesn't run the way he used to.
But Urlacher doesn't have those luxuries. Since 2000, the only other defensive Bears to make more than one Pro Bowl are Lance Briggs ('05-'11), Brendon Ayanbadejo ('06-'07) and Tommie Harris ('05-'07). So the Bears only have three other guys who didn't have just one great fluke season.
Ray Lewis has eight defensive teammates with multiple Pro Bowls since 2000. That takes a lot of pressure off the guy. Other people can make the tackle.
And Urlacher still plays like he always has. He's a heavy hitter. Those guys tend not to have a long life in the NFL. Honestly, it's amazing Urlacher's seen as much action as he has.
It's not unusual for older players get their knees scoped. But for a guy with Urlacher's injury history, you have to wonder if this isn't the start of a regular routine. When you lose your knees, you're not going to be much of a football player. Let's hope the Bears can add some young talent to relieve his workload. And let's hope the injury gods avert their gaze from Old Faithful.