The NFL Playoffs have started. Which means it’s the end of the 2017 Chicago Bears campaign, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. Yet another toilet season for a franchise that has given me such a tremendous amount of pride for so many years. In fact a couple Friday’s ago at Reading Terminal in Philadelphia my buddy Brett and I saw Bruce Arians walk by, and he politely waved back to our “How ya doing, Coach!?” greeting to him.
Then a moment later all I could think about was that Da Bears hired Marc Trestman in 2012 instead of Bruce Arians. Trestman then went on to lead the team straight into their current place directly in the bottom of the toilet. And the team has now lost 11 or more games for three consecutive years.
The truth is before Trestman arrived, I was so puffy-chested regarding the Chicago Bears that I couldn’t contain myself each and every game day.
And why wouldn’t I have my chest out? Every since I was a kid, Da Bears played a tough brand of football. Tough defense. Physical running game. Good special teams. Great tackling. Solid offensive line play. Signature Bears ball! The peak year 1985 story has been told so many times that at this point I can’t help but think it has hung over the franchise like a grey cloud that nothing short of another Lombardi will make it go away. Unfortunately, winning is not that easy.
Truth is, starting in about 1990 is when the love affair with those tough Bears teams really started for me. I’m talking a tough defense and the brand of smash mouth football that featured the likes of the great Neal Anderson, Trace Armstrong, Mike Singletary, James “Robo Cop” Thorton, and Jim Harbaugh long before he was a head coach.
When my parents brought home a VCR in late December of 1990, the first thing I recorded was the Bears NFC Wild Card Playoff game from Soldier Field vs. the Saints. Da Bears won 16-6. If a 16-6 score win for those Bears teams isn’t the most perfect score there is, I’m not sure what would be. Great defense, not much offense, and a couple of field goals and that gets the job done against teams like the 8-8 ’90 Saints. But the next week against the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Football Giants didn’t yield the same result.
But I loved how those January Soldier Field games looked on television back when Soldier was one level before the remodel. Ice cold frozen grass turf and cold breath of “smoke” coming out of each face mask. It was a perfect image that was etched in my 10-year-old mind, and has stayed there to this day.
Fast-forward to 2000, the franchise drafted a guy named Brian Urlacher from The University of New Mexico. Little did I know at the time he would end up being one of the great players in modern Bears history. He transcended what it meant to play middle linebacker. He had an incredible combination of power and speed and covered so much ground with reckless abandon that an Oct. 2006 ESPN The Mag column by Rachel Nichols noted that “For opposing offenses, the middle of the field is not even an option.” My hopes are that he’s enshrined in Canton as a first ballot this year. He was a spectacular linebacker for so many seasons, and along with linebacker teammate Lance Briggs were so good that my chest was at peak stick-out from 2005-2011. I’m so proud of that 2006 team to this day.
But as I’ve gotten older, the more I’ve realized that the biggest badass of the 1998-2010 era Bears is without question Olin Kreutz. Olin played center for 12 years. He made six Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro Teams and was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. Read anything about the leaders of those teams, and every guy in that locker room has noted that Kruetz was the leader of that squad.
I know what you’re thinking. How could a center possibly be the most important dude? I get it. The National Football League has gone through a significant transition in the recent decade. For safety reasons, the hitting isn’t the same. It’s all about big plays on offense, touchdowns, end-zone celebrations, need a quarterback to have a chance to make a playoff run.
But you also need a guy like Kreutz anchoring an offensive line. And doing the small things that relatively go unnoticed. Here’s a few takeaways and learning’s from watching Kreutz play in Chicago for 12 seasons:
- Get ready to play
In December of 2009 I saw a meaningless early December Soldier Field game against the St. Louis Rams. My Dad and I got there plenty early to get “warmed” up on Miller Lites and were taking a lap around inside of Soldier to take it all in. It was early enough that hardly any players were on the field yet. The temp on the field was 24 degrees, went up to 26 by kickoff. Suddenly we both noticed one guy warming up and crouched, pretending to snap a football and take quick and squatted steps forward. He did this over and over and over again. He did this without a ball, and there was nobody else around him. He was at the corner of the Bears end zone. There was literally no one else inside the box.
“Look at this f*#@$ng guy,” I said to my dad.
The guy pretending to snap the ball and take steps forward was Olin Kreutz. He was wearing just shorts and a tee-shirt. Kreutz was born in Honolulu. Don’t think it’s ever 24 degrees there. Look at this guy. My Dad and I had at least 3 layers on each. And the Bears starting center had on shorts and a tee shirt. Either he was completely insane, or it’s a mindset of repetition and preparation. I’ll go with the latter.
Just study the pic above. You’ve got Kyle Orton with sleeves, and hands tucked into hand warmers during what appears to be a freezing cold game. Even the ball looks cold. Then you’ve got #57 Kreutz with elbow pads and gloves with bare-arms, as if to say: ‘I’m good, let’s get after it.’
2. Protect your friends
So many times during NFL games you see a fight/shoving match/punches thrown/etc. If Olin was near, and he saw a teammate get shoved: he was the first guy there to shove back and pick up a teammate. It had nothing to do with being dirty, it had everything to do with backing up a teammate and defending him. Olin Kreutz defined this to each teammate, every damn game. It also helps to be a State Champion Heavyweight wrestler, which Olin was in Hawaii.
3. Speak up!
It has been well documented the number of times Kreutz addressed his Bear teammates in the locker room. One of them was at halftime during the 2006 comeback win vs. Arizona. The ’06 Bears won the NFC Championship, and went on to lose Super Bowl XLI to Indianapolis. But one of the most mind-boggling wins that season came when they came back from being down 20-0 at halftime to Arizona. They ended up winning 24-23 without scoring a single offensive touchdown.
Just think about that for one second. They did not score a single offensive touchdown. Not one! Not only that, they also had 6 total turnovers. SIX! This game has been marked as The Monday Night Miracle, and has been etched in football lore.
This game also marked absolute Peak Urlacher, and he finished with 25 tackles (Wikipedia says 19, Urlacher says 25–I’ll go with him), as well as a key forced fumble in the 2nd half. The dude was everywhere. It was probably the best game I ever remember a Bear playing in my lifetime. But it wasn’t Urlacher that spoke up at halftime.
It was Olin Kreutz.
You may remember the late Dennis Green’s “The Bears are who we thought they were” tirade following the game.
But this is the clip that means more to me:
Said Kruetz in a recent Chicago Tribune column regarding that halftime speech: “I felt like things needed to be said. So I spoke up. I just said, ‘Let’s hit them in the mouth and out-physical them and we’re going to win this game. I really felt that. But to be honest, I felt like that every football game. I felt like if you kick the other guys’ ass enough, you’re going to win the game.”
‘Hit them in the mouth.’
‘Out-physical them and we’re going to win.’
‘Kick the other guys’ ass enough you’re going to win.’
Olin Kreutz, Chicago Bear.
4. Do it the right way-people will notice
Jeter used to say that if you play well enough, other people will talk about it for you. You don’t need to say anything, they’ll take note of it. Kreutz falls right in line with that. In fact, a perfect example of this was when he was signed by the Saints in 2011 and immediately was named team captain.
When long-tenured Bears near the end of their careers Chicago, it rarely ends pretty. So many of the great ones all the way down the line are perfect examples of how they felt mistreated by the organization when their Chicago career comes to an end. And Kreutz was no exception.
But I’m not well enough in the know of those situations to write about that. All I know is that Kreutz was signed by a really good Saints team in 2011 and they immediately named him a captain. This was a team already stacked with talented veterans and leaders, and for Kreutz to be named a captain says all that needs to be said.
His season didn’t last long, though, as Kreutz walked away from football and the Saints in October of that season. In researching why he left, I read that Olin said he lost his passion for the game and retired. After 12 seasons of manning the o-line, who can blame him. That’s a hell of a career, and a hell of a long time to battle in the trenches.
On behalf of myself, and millions of Bears fans everywhere I’m proud to get a post on The Town Mile to recognize Olin Kreutz for his tenacity and leadership for many years in Chicago. Olin was a great Bear and needs to be in the same breath as Urlacher and Briggs when those great modern players are mentioned.
Salute to the man in the shorts and tee shirt in freezing cold weather, getting ready to play:
Olin Kreutz, Chicago Bear.