Professional football players are a strange breed, occupying a space somewhere between adrenaline-addicted daredevils and militant foot soldiers ready to give the ultimate sacrifice for nothing more than 'love of country'. There's very real scientific evidence playing football can drastically reduce one's quality of life once your playing days are over. It can even kill you. But while debates on the long-term effects of head trauma continue to rage and former-players-turned-lost-souls like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson opt out of being alive after deciding the pain is simply too overbearing, today's breed of NFL'ers seem to have a perplexing reaction. They appear to remain consciously oblivious of what's at stake.
Earlier this offseason, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher appeared on HBO's "Real Sports" and said he would rather lie to a team trainer than admit he had a concussion, just so he could stay on the field. In the same interview, Urlacher equated a shot of the painkiller Toradol with getting a flu shot. In any other walk of life, in any other profession, such disregard for one's own self would be viewed as highly irregular and dangerous. Urlacher's body-and-mind commitment to winning is no outlier among his NFL peers, though. Giving up your personal future for the team's short-term gain is par for the course in the NFL. May Bill Belichick have mercy on the poor soul looking out for their own well-being.
The latest bit of news regarding the health of Urlacher, the longtime glue of the Bears' ferocious defense, is just another indicator of how serious modern football players are about the business of winning. Last week, Urlacher underwent a knee scope to repair the ligaments he sprained in the last game of last season, a meaningless victory over the Minnesota Vikings with the team already out of playoff contention. When news of Urlacher's seemingly abrupt knee procedure hit, most in Chicago wondered why he waited until just three weeks before the start of the season to have something done. Of course, that was hardly the case.
Comcast SportsNet's John Mullin first reported that Urlacher had multiple offseason knee operations. On Wednesday, we learned from the the Tribune's Mike Mulligan that Urlacher even went to Germany in May to have what's known as the "Kobe Procedure".
The "Kobe Procedure", or Regenokine, is the latest craze in modern sports medicine. A trip to Germany to see Dr. Peter Wehling is turning into what seems like a last ditch effort for aging, hyper-competitive athletes trying to squeeze every last ounce out of their youth and their body. It is meant to protect and preserve healthy cartilage.
The treatment works like this: blood is drawn for the patient's arm with a syringe containing glass beads. The beads create a reaction in the blood that produces protective proteins used by the body to heal. The blood is store in an incubator for hours before it's put in a centrifuge to separate the protein-rich serum from other elements. The serum is then injected into the patient.
While the process might be beyond comprehension for those of us who aren't German doctors, it's obvious what Regenokine amounts to. This is an "all-in" move, an experimental effort to stay on the playing surface. Alex Rodriguez has gone through the process, so have other luminaries such as Tiger Woods, Greg Oden, Pope John Paul II and actor Nick Nolte. This is a quite a desperate, ragtag bunch.
Both Urlacher and the Bears continue to maintain No. 54 will be out on the field Week 1 against the Colts. You can probably schedule Urlacher for a Toradol shot after every quarter. Whatever it takes, Urlacher will be there. It creates a strange predicament for fans.
It's accepted that fans root for laundry, the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. Winning championships is all that matters. Those opportunities can be so few and far between. But in the case of Urlacher, someone who has given so much to this franchise for over a decade, his disregard for his own well-being is almost concerning. Urlacher's dedication to the team is highly admirable from a fan's perspective, but it's hard to feel good about yourself yelling at the TV the first time he misses a tackle. Urlacher is hurt, very injured, but he'll be out on the field no matter what it takes.
What complicates matters even more is how badly the Bears need No. 54. Chicago was killed by its lack of depth at quarterback and running back last season, but while those needs have been addressed in the offseason, the Bears are still very thin at linebacker. Which is to say: there is no heir to Urlacher's throne. The Bears need him. He knows it, the team knows it, the fans know it. If Brian Urlacher is in the middle of the defense, playing at a high level, the Bears' lofty Super Bowl aspirations become that much more realistic.
Without him? Who knows. Maybe Nick Roach will do an admirable job filling at middle linebacker. Maybe he won't. One thing is for sure: as Urlacher's health continues to wane, the Bears' season hangs in the balance. How this will play out is anyone's guess. All of Chicago will be watching.