Blessings time out all right
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter October 5, 2013 6:58PM
Chicago Bears tackle Jermon Bushrod (74) is seen on the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:35AM
Jermon Bushrod’s wife, Jessica, woke up at 5 a.m. Sept. 21.
The baby was on the way — five weeks early.
‘‘Is this really about to happen right now?’’ the Bears left tackle said.
The Bushrods’ 1 ½-year-old son, Jermon Jr., couldn’t go to the hospital with them. They waited an hour and a half for the babysitter.
Two hours after reaching the hospital, Jessica gave birth to baby Jayla. Bushrod witnessed the birth and spent time with his wife and new daughter before taking the team flight to Pittsburgh.
Jayla, though, didn’t go home as fast. Because she was premature — she weighed less than 5 pounds — she stayed in the hospital, at first in an incubator.
On Thursday, she finally came home to a bedroom her father helped prepare, with a girly chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
So, no, Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, Bushrod’s former team, isn’t the biggest thing to happen to him this week.
Not even close.
When Bushrod’s contract expired in the offseason, he and Jessica, a New Orleans native, looked around the league.
‘‘It’s a nerve-racking process,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a good situation to be in, but it’s not easy.’’
The Saints couldn’t afford to keep the two-time Pro Bowler. The Bears, desperate for offensive-line stability, made him the highest-paid blocker in team history with a five-year, $35.9 million deal, with $17.7 million guaranteed.
The opportunity to work with first-year offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who had coached the Saints’ line, made the decision a ‘‘no-brainer,’’ Bushrod said.
‘‘If I wasn’t going to stay where I was at for the last few years,’’ he said, ‘‘then I had to go with the best fit.’’
John Donatelli, Bushrod’s line coach at Towson, said Kromer once joked he didn’t want to leave New Orleans without his left tackle.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees — who ‘‘loved’’ Bushrod blocking his blind side — understood.
‘‘He got a great opportunity in free agency to go to a place and get the contract that he deserved,’’ Brees said. ‘‘That’s just the way it goes sometimes, y’know?’’
When coach Marc Trestman praised Kromer this week, he did so succinctly: ‘‘He’s taken players that weren’t first-round draft choices and made them Pro Bowlers.’’
One of them was the 6-5, 315-pound Bushrod, who grew up wanting to be a baseball star.
The King George, Va., native played football at small Towson and didn’t start thinking about the pros until Donatelli — with whom he still speaks four hours before every game — pushed him after his sophomore year.
The fourth-round draft pick in 2007 became a starter after Jammal Brown was injured in 2009; he was thrust into a scrimmage against the Houston Texans, with Mario Williams, the top draft pick of 2006, lined up across from him at defensive end.
‘‘From that day forward, he had been the left tackle here,’’ said Saints coach Sean Payton, who won the Super Bowl after Bushrod started 14 games in 2009. ‘‘He has been involved in a lot of wins and a lot of our success, and he’s also a personality you miss.
‘‘He just had a way about him coming to work and doing his job on a very consistent basis.’’
Bushrod has an ‘‘even-keeled aspect to his personality,’’ Trestman said.
Unlike tackles who simply worry about blocking their man, Bushrod’s ‘‘knowledge of the game is tremendous,’’ Bears left guard Matt Slauson said.
“One of the smartest tackles I’ve ever been around,” he said.
That’s what Donatelli saw at Towson, perhaps before Bushrod himself even did: someone who prepared like mad and was the most self-aware player he’d ever seen.
‘‘It was important to him to protect those around him,’’ Donatelli said. ‘‘That’s innately what offensive linemen are all about.’’