Brian Urlacher says his beloved late mother is ‘on my mind all the time’
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org November 10, 2011 8:44PM
Brian Urlacher gets a hug from his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, when he got the call from the Bears telling him he would be the team’s first-round draft choice in 2000. | JIM THOMPSON~ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
Updated: December 13, 2011 9:00AM
The voice is distinctive, piercing and loud.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I can’t get to the phone right now. But if you leave me your name and number, I’ll call you back as soon as I can.
That is the custom greeting on the cell phone of Lavoyda Lenard, who died Sept. 12 in her suburban Dallas home at the age of 51.
Two months later, Brian Urlacher still pays the $80 phone bill, so he and his family can hear Lavoyda’s voice. He talked to her at least twice a week, and he text-messaged her constantly, since he wasn’t a Facebook fixture like her. And while he’s speed-dialed her number a few times to hear her voice, his 10-year-old daughter Pamela has called far more often.
“Pamela talked to her every day,” Urlacher says. “They were best friends.
“We leave it on, so we can hear her voice when we want to.”
He doesn’t know how often Pamela calls, perhaps because he doesn’t really want to know.
“I have no idea; I don’t ask her,” he says. “But I guarantee she does.
At 33, Urlacher is having one of his finest seasons, with a team-high five tackles for loss, three interceptions (tied for team lead), a fumble recovery for a touchdown and 66 tackles. But there are mixed emotions, because his greatest fan unexpectedly died the day after the season opener, a game in which he was later named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
His brother, sister and a close friend have helped him, but his focus is on his three children.
“We’re still not through it. We still talk about it,” he says. “I think that’s the best thing we can do is talk about it, and let them know it’s OK to be upset and cry and miss her, because we all miss her.
“It’s been hard, but they’ve done really well. My kids are tough.”
“That’s it,” Urlacher says, after listening to his mother’s personalized message. “Just her voice.
He is, of course, downplaying its significance.
Whether the football field accommodated a few dozen or thousands, Lavoyda always managed to assure her son she was there.
“I used to be so embarrassed as a kid, because she was always the loudest parent there,” Urlacher recalls. “It’s just her. She’s just loud.
“If she’s sitting in a stadium, I can hear her screaming over everyone else. I guarantee it.”
The most beautiful sound she produced, though, was her laugh.
“It was loud as [expletive],” Urlacher says. “It was contagious.
“Everyone always talks about my mom’s laugh.”
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman remembers that Lavoyda loved to laugh, and she loved her grandkids.
That’s why he, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije, Pat Mannelly and Anthony Adams each contributed to pay for a chartered flight to attend Lavoyda’s funeral.
“I’m sure if the role were switched,” Tillman says, “[Urlacher] would have done it.”
Urlacher appreciates the support of the franchise, singling out George McCaskey. The Bears’ new chairman traveled with team president Ted Phillips, general manager Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith, linebackers coach Bob Babich, senior director of corporate communications Scott Hagel and head athletic trainer Tim Bream on a separate plane, and he offered to bring down the entire team.
“That didn’t make any sense,” Urlacher says.
But he adds that he was especially touched by the presence of his teammates.
“I have my blood brother and sister, but those [teammates] are my brothers. [Expletive], I spend 10 hours a day with those guys, you know?” he says. “Sure, we get on each other’s nerves, we get annoyed sometimes, but they’re my brothers.”
Besides, his coaches and teammates admired the grace with which he handled his mother’s death despite heightened news reports and queries from everyone, be they fans or other NFL players.
“When you’re Brian Urlacher, there’s a lot of things you have to deal with, but he’s never had to deal with that,” Smith says. “Of course, that’s a one-time thing you have to do. I’m sure he’s still dealing with it. His mother was a big part of his life.
“But he’s handled it the way he’s handled everything.”
Urlacher didn’t miss a game — honoring what he believed to be the wish of his mother — and he embraced the routine of the football season to help his healing.
He’s racing around the field, reminding Tillman of the 2000 version.
“He’s playing at an unbelievable level right now,” Tillman says. “Hitting hard. Getting picks. Diving to get interceptions.”
But Briggs disagrees.
“Even better,” Briggs says, pointing to his head.
Urlacher turns 34 in May, and he downplays that his play is any different from last season.
“I’ve said I’ll play as long as I produce to a level I’m OK with and the Bears are OK with. Three, four [years], who knows?
“I feel good, and I’m having fun. I still like practice. I still like…”
Then he pauses.
“Meetings are OK. We get through them, but our coach [Babich] keeps it fun for us.”
Smith says he, too, has no idea how much longer his star linebacker can play.
“But it just seems every year, we’re talking about a career year, and he’s having a great year right now,” Smith says. “He surprises you, because you’re not supposed to do this as you get older.
“But he’s a special player and a special guy.”
He certainly was on Monday night in a must-win game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Urlacher was everywhere, racking up a team-high 11 tackles — twice as many as any other defender on the Bears — and he knocked down two passes. Afterward, he cracked jokes on ESPN’s postgame set.
“It’s easy to be in a good mood when you win,” he says. “That was a big game for us.
“They were kicking our butt in the third quarter, but we came back in the fourth quarter. You didn’t see us pouting on the sideline, you didn’t see anyone looking like, ‘Oh [expletive], here we go…’ I was proud.”
Before he got back to the visitors locker room at Lincoln Financial Field, he says a couple of Eagles players told him they were sorry for his loss.
“It’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s still on their minds.”
Urlacher doesn’t talk to his teammates much about the grieving process, instead counting on his brother, sister and a close friend.
“When she was alive, I thought about her daily,” he says. “But now, she’s on my mind all the time.
“My mom was 51. She was way too young. But that’s life,” he says before pausing. “[Expletive] happens. It’s hard, but it’s nice to have all these people there for me.”