By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) There’s no argument to be made that Bears linebacker Lance Briggs wasn’t an awesome football player for a long time. A fixture on one of the best defenses of an era, he paired with Brian Urlacher — and both players should wind up in Canton a handful of years down the road — to form the NFL’s best linebacker duo for years.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Early Morning Showers; Mild Day Friday
And now his time with the Chicago Bears, all 12 seasons of it, is over. So is pro football for him, as long as Briggs doesn’t try to force something that really doesn’t need to happen.
Often the end of a sports career is viewed through soft lighting and a tacit acknowledgement of the mortality, professional and otherwise, in us all. All the feels are conjured up, personal little wakes are held in the form of TV and radio retrospectives, and the career casket is slowly lowered into the earth before the sporting world moves on.
Briggs’s case is tough to get misty about, though. There’s no tragedy to his demise. This is no “Runners whom renown outran/And the name died before the man.” If you want a combination of football and the unfortunate, watch UAB players respond to their program being shut down.
Briggs had seven Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro honors. His career wasn’t plagued by injuries, and what finally derailed it was the combination of being 34 years old and a football player. Any implication that Briggs hasn’t been allowed to go out on his own terms or that there’s something unsatisfactory about his career’s (likely) end is wrong.
The opportunity to play in 2015, while this doctor would highly advise against it, is there. That Briggs’s body will still be capable of competitive play in a game that will be that much younger and faster than him next August is not. It happens. That’s the NFL.
Would the story be more pleasant had the Bears been able to wrap a pretty bow around the career of the latest member of a franchise storied with linebackers? Of course. But the biohazard bag that is the 2014 Bears certainly has dulled many to feeling anything warm after already completing the Kübler-Ross model of grief over a lost season. (You don’t want to know what I lowered myself to in the bargaining stage.)
And after the restaurant opening noise in the preseason, Briggs’ hardly hidden indifference-to-distain for the current regime, and this midseason admission …
“I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes I sit in the meetings while coaches are talking and sometimes the words just phase out and I’m just staring at the screen. The only thing I can tell is the time. I can see the time and it’s like, ‘Damn, I still got 55 minutes left.’”READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Defense Attorney Calls For Mistrial And Accuses Judge Of Lunging At Her; Judge Denies Claims And Motion
… it just feels less like a time for wallowing in sorrow over a great player’s end than it does a desire to get this all over with.
Unlike Urlacher’s and Olin Kreutz’s situations of recent vintage, this isn’t one of those divorces where one side still thinks they can make it all work. “Think of the kids, honey. Think of what this will do to Jon Bostic.” Nah. This pending separation seems begrudgingly amicable. Briggs knows he has overstayed his welcome, and Bears coach Marc Trestman certainly isn’t going to try to get him to stick around. Trestman even admitted that he hadn’t yet spoken to Briggs as of Monday, even though Briggs had been placed on season-ending injured reserve last Friday with a groin injury.
“I’m disappointed for him personally,” Trestman said. “It’s been a rough couple of years for him with the injuries that he’s had. When he’s played, he’s played extremely hard and he’s been an important element of this organization, not only the last couple years since I’ve been here, but obviously throughout his career. He’s been an influential leader in the locker room.”
Yeah, a leader who compromised the head coach’s flimsy authority in the locker room.
Briggs had already acknowledged the reality of leaving the Bears and/or retirement before the season began anyway. In July he said, “I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to this city and playing for this team. When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”
During the season as he faced the prospect of his final game against the Green Bay Packers, Briggs said candidly, “It’s the last year of my deal. It’s not like I’m magically going to show up after this year and they’re going to open the gates up for me. I’ve talked to my buddy, (former Bears defensive end) Alex Brown. Those gates are closed when you’re a free agent.”
They’re swinging closed ever so slowly now. The shovels loom above the grave. Yeah, that sucks, but it happens. And in this case, surrounded by a bad team and Briggs’s own repeated self-awareness, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
That leaves little desire to cry that it’s over or, for now, smile because it happened.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Disturbance Brings Chance Of Rain-Snow Mix To Our North Overnight
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.