With the towels collected off the floor and wads of dirty tape tossed toward the garbage, Charles Tillman wondered aloud about how the Bears had let the NFC title game get away from them.
It was late on Jan. 23 and Tillman was ready to race the last of the stragglers out of the dressing room.
He described the defeat as best he could, and shook his head frequently.
Finally, he stood up at his locker and concluded by saying, "We'll be back next year. Our defense will have another year together. We'll be a year older with another year of experience."
And those words have stuck ever since. Yes, they will have another year of experience, but the part about being a year older is what resonates.
Tillman wasn't suggesting the Bears would be old, but the reality is the Bears' defense is a year older in a league where the beatings add up and the injuries are more continuous than annoying.
By all rights, the Bears' defense ought to be very solid again this year, the one part of the team with which you can rest easy.
But there's that age thing. After the Bears were so unbelievably fortunate a year ago with injuries, you have to think it's going to even out a bit this year.
Brian Urlacher is 33, Anthony Adams 31, Julius Peppers 31, Lance Briggs 31 (in November), Israel Idonije 31 (in November), Tillman 30 and Chris Harris 29.
That's seven starters right around the age in the NFL when things can turn against you, and already Lovie Smith has been cautious with Adams and Briggs because of injuries he says might keep them out the rest of the preseason.
The Bears obviously have the personnel on defense, enough even to make up for a questionable secondary, but age and injuries have to scare them -- as they do every team.
Thing is, the Bears were lucky last year and it just doesn't figure to happen again, and if the doctor visits the defense often this formula doesn't work.
The offense is going to be the offense -- dependent again on shaky protection for Jay Cutler -- and the special teams have to be the special teams, better than most in the NFL.
But it's tough to imagine this a playoff squad without the defense winning games for the Bears. Injuries are already here and the opener is two weeks away. Time to cross your fingers and hold your breath.
"We'll be a year older,'' Tillman said after the final game of last season.
Hard to argue with him.
Upon further review
When he got here, we were told Roy Williams was a No. 1 receiver who had a perfect handle on the Mike Martz playbook, and now we hear he's still learning the finer points of the offense. And according to Jay Cutler, "I don't think we expect Roy to be the greatest receiver ever. He's going to fill a role.''
Mike Quade has taken a lot of heat this week for letting Bobby Valentine manage his team from the booth, and for being unaware in regards to his own players.
That's a bit unfair because Quade has been unaware from the start, and Bob Brenly has outmanaged him from the booth all season.
Two outs, bottom of the ninth, man on second and down a run Tuesday and Brenly wonders why Quade is saving Tony Campana, whose main job is as a pinch runner.
TV camera then shows the dugout, where Campana and his teammates are staring at Quade, wondering exactly the same thing.
Luckily for Quade, Tyler Colvin struck out and Aramis Ramirez didn't have a chance to be thrown out at home on a single.
You know what will really be a story? When someone reports that Roy Williams didn't drop a pass in practice.
Law and order
Miami Herald's Greg Cote, on Jim Thome's 600th career homer: "Been awhile since baseball marked a milestone by a man not facing a federal indictment."
E-mailer Dan Marich: "Thank goodness Aramis Ramirez has taken Starlin Castro under his wing. I feel so much better now."
Now that the White Sox have packed it in for the season, someone please tell Ozzie Guillen that he doesn't have to play Adam Dunn or Alex Rios the rest of the way.
Should we be worried that it's only the preseason and Lovie Smith already is searching the sky for that elusive spaceship?
Sportspickle.com: "Miami expected to be acquitted in death-penalty case by a Florida jury."
Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi, on the Georgetown brawl with a Chinese pro team: "Don't know if the Georgetown guys destroyed any property, but if so I'm sure President Obama will tell the Chinese government, 'Just put it on our tab.'"
Omaha World-Herald's Brad Dickson: "In Woodward, Okla., a woman stripped off all her clothes during a putting contest. In a related story, Tiger Woods announced he's skipping next year's PGA Championship to enter the Woodward, Okla., Putt-For-Dough Challenge."
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