Brian Urlacher back with Bears after mom's unexpected death
SEAN JENSEN ON THE BEARS September 14, 2011 10:11PM
Brian Urlacher’s mother, Lavoyda Lenard, rejoices as he gets the word that he will be the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2000 NFL draft. | Jim Thompson~ Albuquerque Journal
Updated: November 10, 2011 10:26AM
Around 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Bears announced that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week.
It was more icing to cap a brilliant season-opening 30-12 victory Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons, the NFC’s top seed last postseason.
But nearly 90 minutes later, the Bears — on behalf of Urlacher — issued a statement that puts the immensely popular NFL in perspective.
“My mother, Lavoyda, unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas,” Urlacher said in the statement. “My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest.
“This is a very difficult and emotional time for us, and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy.”
She was 51. A cause of death hasn’t been disclosed.
Urlacher did return to Halas Hall on Thursday, bolstering the notion that he’ll play on Sunday.
But the Face of the Franchise is mourning.
And his teammates and coaches mourn alongside him.
“He’s the heart and soul of this organization, and we all know he’s going through a tough time right now, but we’re going to respect his privacy,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “When he gets back, we’re here for him.”
Many of them, though, may not wait.
Given the tightness of the Bears’ locker room and the deep affection for Urlacher within it, it’s hard to imagine some members of the organization not flying wherever the funeral and services will be held.
“Our hearts are with him,” defensive end Israel Idonije said. “It’s one of those times that you can’t imagine, and 100 percent of our support is with him. Family and life comes first.”
Coach Lovie Smith said the team would support Urlacher “in any way that we can.”
“Unless you’ve been through it, there’s no way to make it any better than it is at the time,” Smith said. “But he’ll get through it.”
Smith shared that Urlacher was among the first to contact him after his mother, Mae, died Jan. 31, an example that their relationship isn’t only about business.
“I’m lucky to be his coach,” Smith said, “but our relationship goes a lot further than that.”
Even the star of the Bears’ next opponent showed empathy toward Urlacher.
New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees recalled his emotions when his mother, Mina, died Aug. 7, 2009.
“It was a sudden thing, very unexpected,” Brees said. “So I left training camp immediately to be with my brother and my family. On two different occasions, I had to leave for a period of time to be with family and to go to her memorial service and help plan that.”
Privately, many expect Urlacher to be on the field at the Louisiana Superdome when the Bears play the Saints on Sunday.
Smith and Brees, though, highlighted how returning to work can help in the grieving process.
“I can tell you this,’’ Brees said. ‘‘For me, as hard as that was and as much as I needed to be with my family at that time, the guys in the locker room — your teammates — are also a part of your family. So a big part of my healing was coming back and being with the guys in the locker room and obviously getting back to playing football because I know that’s what she loved watching me do.”
Smith didn’t have the same experience because his mother passed away during the offseason.
“I know sometimes when you’re going through tough times, the best thing for you to do is get back to something that you like doing, and football is very important to Brian,” Smith said. “He has a big support group here, so I know he’s anxious to get back with his teammates.
“I don’t think there’s a book on how you go through it. You just kind of take it one day at a time, which we’ll do.”
With Urlacher away from Halas Hall, the Bears had Nick Roach at middle linebacker. Veteran Brian Iwuh shifted into Roach’s strong-side linebacker spot.
On the Bears’ official depth chart, Dom DeCicco is Urlacher’s backup. The undrafted rookie played on special teams, finishing with two tackles in the season opener, but he’s considered very raw at linebacker.
Asked if he ever thought he’d play middle linebacker in a key game, DeCicco said, “No. I never did.
“That never even crossed my mind. I’m just preparing this week like it’s any other week.”
Roach said he’d be comfortable making the shift if Urlacher isn’t able to play. Besides, he regularly takes snaps at strong side and in the middle during a normal practice week.
But he also fleshed out the challenge.
“A player like that is really going to be missed on the field,” Roach said. “But to say we’re not going to have confidence going into that game, it would be a setup for something bad to happen.”