Admit it, you shook your head "not again" when Brian Urlacher was on the sidelines Saturday night being attended to by trainers. Although Lovie Smith said after the Bears loss, they didn't expect Urlachers's strained calf to be a problem, you just can't help but wonder if the old Bear is breaking down. You're not the only one. After eleven years in the league Brian Urlacher wants to hang on a few more years to win a championship. But can his body hold up? Where is his head mentally? And just how good can he still be? The Bears middle linebacker sat down with NBC5 sports before breaking training camp in Bourbonnais.
"Your mohawk is really growing in" I laughed when we sat down to talk. Urlacher couldn't stop running his hand over his head, annoyed with the 3 day growth. Prior to this "heady" commitment he could shave his own head in the privacy of his bathroom every other day. But with two daughters he is fully aware of what it costs to keep up with looking good. "They get manicures already!" he laughed, "it's funny, soccer balls & stuff on their fingernails". Urlacher obviously loves being a dad. But last year, after getting injured in the opening game of the season, he realized he loves his teammates almost as much.
"When I was sitting in the hospital (Doc Bowen) said, 'you did the worst thing possible you could do to your wrist'. I was like 'what?' I thought I just dislocated a little bone." The dislocated wrist kept Urlacher out for the entire season, a very long season in which he was merely a witness on the sidelines.
"I missed my teammates, that was the hardest thing. Because I wasn't around them I went in and did my workouts while they were in meetings. And then I'd leave before they got out so I didn't see a lot of them. And the games, I
d come stand on the sidelines and do what I could, but that's what I missed the most... You're not an outcast, but you don't feel like you're part of the team because you're not doing what they're doing. I couldn't travel because I couldn't wear a suit...You don't feel like you're part of that team, that's how it goes."
A light bulb went off in 54's head. "When I retire that's going to be the hardest thing... that's going to be the toughest when I am finally done."
Do you think about that (retiring) now, I wondered?
"No hopefully that won't be for awhile. Three, four years I hope, this is my 11Th year, gosh I'd be 13-14 years in the league, if I can make it."
That's a big IF for a few reasons. A lockout threatens retirement plans for a number of NFL players in the twilight of their careers. And for Brian Urlacher, nagging injuries of late. But the last two years he has felt the healthiest in a long time entering training camp.
"My body feels good. Last year coming into the season I felt great..I worked out a ton."
Which explains a new found optimism for the middle linebacker who used to take criticism to heart resulting in media boycotts and petulant pouting. Does he still get offended when people wonder if he's the same middle linebacker that went to 6 Pro Bowls, was named NFC Rookie Defensive player of the year, and NFC Defensive player of the year?
"I don't care" Urlacher said emphatically. "I don't care anymore. It doesn't do me any good. There's always going to be people criticizing you, saying they're better than you, that's just the way it is." Urlacher is content with his place in football because he knows how his teammates and coaches feel about him. "I just want to win games at this point in my career."
It's also why he's happy to share the label of "face of the franchise" in Chicago.
"We got ten guys who are pretty much on the same level" Urlacher argued while ripping off names of teammates who qualified, "Jay, Pep, Forte, Lance, Peanut, Hester..." Urlacher said. "I don't think you need to have just one guy who is the face of your franchise. We have a ton of guys who can fill that role."
Urlacher admitted he is picking up the newspapers again to read the sports section. Not just about his acquaintances like Lebron James, or the Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks he was drawn into watching this year. Urlacher is reading about the Bears, articles and stories he steered away from in the past. "I actually read the paper this year because there's not a lot of negative stuff" he explained.
The Bears have become a veteran team with the acquisitions of Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers, but they also know that's a big reason why they're putting more pressure than anybody else on themselves to win.
"We need to win. There should be pressure. There's no reason why we shouldn't. I think we're a veteran team, we're old, a lot of guys 7,8,9, 10 years in the league so we should be expected to win right now. We expect that of ourselves."
Urlacher also thinks he is surrounded by more talent on this year's 2010 Bears team than the one that lost the Super Bowl in 2006.
"I was thinking about that the other day" Urlacher said, "We were right there. What if. We just got to get back there and do it this time."
What if he's right? Brian Urlacher doesn't want to end his career asking, "what if".