TELANDER: Brian Urlacher caught in a world with no closure
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2013 10:18PM
Updated: July 18, 2013 11:43PM
If anybody thinks golf is going to save Brian Urlacher, just wait until that opening Bears-Bengals kickoff on Sept. 8 at Soldier Field.
Good ol’ No. 54 may keel over on the spot when he sees somebody else at his middle linebacker spot.
Or maybe he’ll be nowhere near the park or a TV.
Torment is one thing. Self-inflicted torment is another.
As he told TV host Dave Dameshek Thursday at a golf course in Lake Tahoe, Nev., ‘‘[The Bears] better not win the championship without me, because then I’ll be really pissed.’’
Yes, it may have been partly in jest. Urlacher’s jokes can be drier than toast. But mostly it was not funny, because Urlacher has yet to escape the pull of the vicious game he so excelled at.
He’s still mad at the way his career ended. He still thinks he can play. (Forget the random times he’s said he’s absolutely, positively done.)
He’s still acting as though golf — which he can shoot in the low 80s — is a replacement activity for head-hunting. For leading and dominating and winning in the crazed, fan-packed arena.
Golf worked real well for Michael Jordan, eh?
At any rate, Urlacher hasn’t been a part of the Bears, or the NFL, since not being re-signed after the final game of the 2012 season. For 13 years he was the man in the middle, a perennial Pro Bowl player, a shaved-headed weapon of focused destruction, a leader on an attacking defense that often made the Bears’ offense look impotent.
He didn’t want to leave the Bears at all. That’s for sure.
But in typically bull-headed, myopic fashion, he said the Bears’ offer of one last season at $2 million was basically an embarrassment.
‘‘I’m not going to play for that, you know,’’ he told Sirius XM back in March. ‘‘Not for the Bears, at least.’’
It might not have been handled as well as it could have been by new Bears general manager Phil Emery, this letting go of a Hall of Famer-to-be who had given everything he had for Chicago. But that’s the cruel biz.
It’s funny how only fading superstars never seem to get that.
Urlacher let it be known while taping an interview from the golf course with Dave Kaplan, host of “Sports Talk Live” on Comcast SportsNet, that his anger with Emery is for real. And in so doing, he made it clear — just read between the lines — that Emery is Urlacher’s scapegoat for the realities of a nasty, hurting business that delights in eating its own:
‘‘I have a lot of respect for the Bears organization, the McCaskey family first and foremost. I just wish it would’ve been handled more honestly from . . . Phil’s side. . . . They made it sound like they wanted to negotiate when they really didn’t. He already had something in mind before we even started talking. If they would have told me that, I would probably still be playing right now. I was so mad the way it went down, and just the dishonesty.’’
Again, memo to deluded, devoted vet: The NFL moves on. New regimes arrive. Coaches — like your beloved Lovie Smith — get canned. Young savages, some drooling with Urlacher intensity, wait in the wings.
Being forced from a career you excelled at is heart-breaking, earth-shattering. For some pro athletes, it can be so devastating that they never recover, wandering around the rest of their aimless lives mumbling about glory days.
I have often said there should be something akin to a funeral when an NFL career ends. The lowering into the ground or the burning to ashes of a jersey and other locker room mementoes, plus the weeping, the grieving, could bring closure for the former player. Urlacher needs such a moment. A shovel or a match is all it takes.
Indeed, he’s in a bit of that hallucinatory It’s over/I’m not done! stage. He says he’ll never come back to football. Then he lets this slip in the Dameshek interview: ‘‘My body feels good. Mentally I feel good. I’m excited to run out there and go through the grind of training camp and do stuff like that.’’
Then he reverses field. ‘‘I’m sure I’ll miss it,’’ he says. ‘‘But right now I don’t miss it at all.’’
When he’ll miss it is when training camp starts at the end of July, when the Bears take the field for preseason games, when the Green Bay Packers show up, when the air gets crisp and the tailgates are in full charcoal heaven. He’s never done anything else in the fall.
He’ll feel the pain then. Not in his knees or back or shoulders or his once-busted wrist.
He’ll feel it in his heart. Because — you never know — the Bears might win it all without him.