TELANDER: With Urlacher gone, who is new face of Bears franchise?
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com March 21, 2013 10:31PM
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Updated: April 23, 2013 2:40PM
Try to put a face in the Bears’ helmet, the face of the franchise.
Who would it be?
It’s OK if you stumble. This was easy when Brian Urlacher was a Bear, like three days ago. It’s not easy now.
Quarterback Jay Cutler?
Still hasn’t won the big game, came from the Broncos, has the lovability of a porcupine. Remember how often Cutler has said he doesn’t care what anybody says or thinks about him? You reap what you sow. Might as well spit in the fans’ faces. Blow snot on the media.
The outside linebacker has been with the Bears his entire 11 years in the NFL, is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a dynamic presence whose 102 tackles, two interceptions for 110 return yards and two touchdowns last season were pretty darned good stats for a 31-year-old.
Briggs had that little car incident a few years back — his sleek 2007 Murcielago ended up demolished on the side of the Edens Expy. at 4 a.m. with Briggs nowhere to be found — but he has been a decent soldier since. Still, Briggs is not in the middle of things, and he’s aging. As was Urlacher. Who was unceremoniously dumped.
We’ll give him major props for harnessing his borderline personality disorder, for being a tough, fast, big wide receiver who always gets you 1,000 yards. But he’s too new. The Bears are his third team in four years, and it’s hard for a team leader to be the man spread wide, out past the mayhem.
Running back Matt Forte?
Nah. Too quiet.
The dude who cried and said he was thinking about retiring? The man who never should have been a wide receiver, just a return specialist, but always wanted more? No way.
Kicker Robbie Gould?
Love the guy. But a kicker? As if.
Julius Peppers? No. Charles Tillman? No.
Oops, the Clutts-ter’s long gone. Kidding, anyway.
So let’s conclude with the obvious: There’s nobody in that Bears helmet. The Bears right now are a team without a clear identity. Not on the field, anyway. Linebacker Nick Roach is gone, and there’s nobody on the roster who could possibly take Urlacher’s Hall of Fame-to-be middle-linebacker spot.
The actual face of the franchise is a hydra-headed one, an image you never really wish for, but which seems to sprout often in these times when athletes are sanded of their sharp edges, traded at a whim, released any time, when the quality we used to call ‘‘personality’’ is now renamed ‘‘police blotter’’ or ‘‘sociopath.’’
The chiseled heads of general manager Phil Emery, coach Marc Trestman and president Ted Phillips — with a hundred McCaskeys peering over their shoulders — are the Bears these days. Management makes the noise. The suits control all. They couldn’t come up with a decent contract for Urlacher because he was old and slow, nostalgia be damned.
‘‘We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian, and both sides have decided to move forward,” Emery said in a statement. “Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. . . . Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears.”
I love that last sentence: ‘‘Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears.’’
Demonstrably untrue, it should be reworked to, ‘‘Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears after he stays away for a few years, quits griping, acknowledges that we are the gods of fate and hobbles back, lame and broken, a retired ballplayer scraping our boots and kissing our butts.’’
That’s how it goes far too often for great players. They somehow morph from heroes into bad guys — turncoats, even — and they are sent off without ceremony or real praise.
Think of the Chicago sports stars who left the mother ship in anger and sadness: Bobby Hull, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Frank Thomas and, perhaps the saddest of all, Sammy Sosa.
Alienation comes, and it can only be shattered by time passing, bitterness dulling, apologies flowing and most people forgetting the rancor of the past.
Even coaches aren’t immune from the upheaval. Doug Collins, Denis Savard, Phil Jackson, Lovie Smith — none of their ends was pretty. It partly is a function of salary caps and finances and the youthful turnover in all competition. But some of it is just coldblooded, knife-in-the-throat, see-ya-later bean-counting and whimsy.
Who’s going to take Urlacher’s place as the locker-room man? Cutler wants to be that guy? Good luck there, Jay.
Who, in fact, will take Urlacher’s spot on the field, right there where everything happens, at the rugged defensive position so honored by Bill George, Butkus, Mike Singletary and Urlacher himself?
Surely, Emery has a plan. And if it comes from the impending draft, great. Could it be Manti ‘‘Catfish’’ Te’o, the Notre Dame middle linebacker who has been scrutinized and ridiculed beyond the pale? Cleansed of his lying sins and improved on his lateral speed, Te’o is the kind of intense, sincere player that I could see actually leading the Bears for years to come.
But that’s a reach, something that would take time to go from pupal form to adult.
Meanwhile, the helmet with no face reigns.