By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I often get a student who has been able to slip through the primary years of his educational career without being able to read.
By that I don’t mean illiterate necessarily; rather, he or she can put letters together to form words and words together to form sentences, but the essence of comprehension is lacking. That’s where my work starts and continues until the lightbulb clicks on for the kid. Such is often the metaphorical case for athletes.
Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher saw the writing on the wall at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NFL season, but he just couldn’t quite comprehend the meaning of it all for most of this offseason. Wednesday morning, though, the lightbulb clicked on.
While in many ways I can be a cruel master (“We have to read one of your columns for homework again, Sensei?”) on the journey toward enlightenment, there is none crueler than the hourglass running empty on a professional career. So Urlacher’s wasn’t so much a path of discovery as it was having his finger involuntarily stuck in an empty socket (that is not a Paris Hilton or Jenny McCarthy joke) and having reality shocked into his system.
“After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made a decision to retire,” Urlacher said in a statement posted on social media. “Although I could continue playing, I’m not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that’s up to my standards. When considering this, along with the fact that I could retire after 13 year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear. I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped me along the way. I will miss my teammates, my coaches, and the great Bears fans. I’m proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss this great game, but I leave it with no regrets.”
He won’t admit it publicly, but the reality is that nobody wanted him. At least not on terms that were respectable to him. That has to be an awful, barren feeling, and I don’t wish to ever experience it. We’d all like to go out on our own terms, and Urlacher really tried to do that this winter and spring. But pro sports—the cruel master that is the NFL in particular—will always do their best to make the cold decision for you. And while one of the greatest defensive players of an organization mythologized for its defenses is likely feeling the deep sting of what Marcellus Wallace called “pride @#$%ing with you,” he will grow to realize what many of us already knew. This is right call.
Urlacher’s body had abandoned him, though find me a body that doesn’t do the same to a pro linebacker of 13 seasons. The athlete default setting is to not accept breakdown; instead, one must fight and battle and overcome. No excuses. Concession is failure.
No. 54 conceding that he can no longer overcome his growing limitations to play competitively is not failure, though. Maybe there was a veteran’s minimum contract out there. And maybe he could have been trotted out like an animal in a Russian circus, broken and sad, and that could be the pathetic last chapter of an otherwise great career. Nobody wanted to see that.
And now nobody has to, because Urlacher swallowed the tough pill instead, and now his career ends on what will be remembered largely as a high note. The slap-in-the-face courtesy the Bears tried to extend to him and ensuing ill feelings will be forgotten by most, and the vision that will stick in fans minds is the large man with steam pulsing from his nostrils on a December Sunday, backpedaling into coverage often better than many can frontpedal, making athletic plays that left opponents in awe.
Now Brian Urlacher gets to be Kerry Wood. He’ll reconcile with the Bears and pick up a healthy paycheck in some ambassador role. He’ll be involved in appearances and autograph signings. A TV or radio network will hire him to do pre- and postgame shows in the fall. He’ll still get to make bad commercials. And fans who were so worried that their favorite Bear would wear a different uniform—dumb as that is to care about—can now breathe easy.
And football fans as a whole who would have hated to see a once-mighty warrior limp and scrape through another season in pathetic fashion in a quixotic attempt to “prove” something that had already been proven won’t have to suffer his suffering either.
Because rather than letting the obviously dying lightbulb sadly struggle to shine another year (or even shatter into pieces), Brain Urlacher finally read the situation and understood. And he then flipped off the switch himself.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.