Telander: Let’s hope Brian Urlacher’s career doesn’t end like Dick Butkus’
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org September 4, 2012 10:10PM
Updated: October 6, 2012 1:59PM
If he’s back, let’s just rejoice.
I know there are a lot of Brian Urlacher dislikers out there. Doubters, too. I was a doubter myself.
I didn’t doubt the Bears middle linebacker’s talent, drive or credentials — Hall of Fame, first vote, guaranteed. (Save your but-he-can’t-shed-blocks complaint for somebody else.)
I only doubted his ability to recover from this last and most damaging of injuries, a serious sprain of his left knee ligaments, with subsequent cleanup surgery, a wounding that has taken him eight months to recover from.
If he is recovered.
The Bears say he is. Urlacher, 34, was there in the middle of the defense on Monday for the first time this summer.
And if the Bears say he’s healed and ready to play, and he agrees, then I’m not going to play that guessing game.
Coach Lovie Smith likes to say that if you don’t practice Friday, you don’t play Sunday. Why, by Friday, Urlacher will be a cagey old vet!
Smith’s promise that Urlacher would be ready for the season opener against the Colts has turned out to be true. It seems. It must be. We are not doubting.
And imagine how much fun that realized promise must be for Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who now gets to look into the ice-cold eyeballs of the Bullet-Headed One himself lining up straight across the line from him.
Yes, the Bears have injured players out. And their issues at safety seem to be eternal.
But as I read about teams around the country, there is not one NFL club that seems to have everything in order. Starters have been lost for the season. One Denver Bronco shot himself to death. The Saints have only a giant photo of suspended coach Sean Payton glaring down at them at their practice center for inspiration. All of which is better than it is for Eagles coach Andy Reid, who recently lost his adult son, then was told by owner Jeff Lurie that if he doesn’t go better than 8-8, he’s fired.
So a healthy Urlacher in the middle, back for battle, is nothing but good news for the Bears. Maybe that knee just suddenly snapped into shape, like a switchblade. It can happen, you know.
We will not doubt.
I won’t even bring up my memories of Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus at the end of his foreshortened career, limping around on a knee that was little more than a femur and tibia held together with sports tape.
Butkus, one of the best and meanest football players ever, would do anything to play. He took shots and pills, got fluid drained, all of it. By 1973, at halftimes, his knee would have found the weak spots in the surrounding tape and have pushed out balls of fluid-filled skin that resembled small citrus fruit.
I went with him in 1977 after he had radical surgery called an osteotomy, in which a wedge of bone was taken from his leg so it could be angled nearly straight again and he could walk. We watched a film of the operation at the Nautilus headquarters in DeLand, Fla., a crazy place run by a crazier man, Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones, an eccentric genius who had live 10-foot alligators in an open tank in the foyer. At one point while watching the film, Butkus chuckled bitterly and said, ‘‘Looks like a big old -----, doesn’t it?’’
Butkus sued the Bears for $1.6 million in 1974 for breach of contract, saying they had ruined his career and now weren’t paying him.
Owner George Halas replied, ‘‘It is eminently clear that all Dick is interested in is sitting in Florida and collecting his paychecks for the next four years.’’
Talk about gratitude. Talk about misreading an athlete.
At any rate, Urlacher’s career won’t end like Butkus’. Not with that kind of injury, that kind of acrimony. Right?
Not now that he’s healed.