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updated: 9/3/2012 8:17 PM

Reality is, Bears' Urlacher won't play forever

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  • Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and he seems to be more accepting of that notion.

    Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and he seems to be more accepting of that notion.
    Associated Press


Faithful followers of football never learn because they don't want to.

Denial is much more comfortable than reality. Maybe that's why a couple of Bears management teams have been reluctant to prepare for the end of Brian Urlacher's career.

Heck, even Walter Payton came here with a remarkable physique for a running back, missed one game in 13 seasons and finally had to retire because his body had enough.

It means beasts like Dick Butkus and Dan Hampton arrive tearing up the opposition and depart with torn-up knees, backs and assorted other body parts.

For some players it happens sooner. For some it happens later. For all it happens sooner or later.

Later would be better than sooner, for sure, but sooner or later it's going to happen to Urlacher, too.

The player usually is the last to know, but Urlacher sounded recently like he finally received the memo.

Not long ago, the Bears' middle linebacker was saying that he would mask a concussion to stay on the field instead of the sideline.

Urlacher also said that he thought he could play four more years. He probably really thought he could play longer, maybe until he's 50 years old like Roger Clemens throwing a ball around instead of a middle linebacker throwing his bones around.

Ah, but finally there Urlacher was the other night being interviewed by Channel 32's Lou Canellis.

Viewers might have had to squint away from the neon enlightenment flashing in his eyes.

Urlacher seems to understand that his future is what all football players' is the next game, the next play actually, the next collision.

Instead of talking about hiding collisions from the medical staff, Urlacher indicated that he wouldn't play with pain. The truth is that he still will if he isn't limited to the point that he can't help the Bears beat the Colts on Sunday.

"He's a great player and great leader," Bears center Roberto Garza said Monday at Halas Hall.

Nobody knows yet what Urlacher will be able to do in the opener, if anything, much less during the rest of the season.

The Bears can only hope Urlacher is a reasonable facsimile of the player who has been the face of the franchise the past 12 years.

"The knee is never going to be the same," Urlacher told Canellis.

Head coach Lovie Smith will try to squeeze more from Urlacher's 6-foot-4, 258-pound body before the Bears dispose of him.

Nick Roach is an able replacement, but he isn't Urlacher. That's no knock on Roach, as cornerback D.J. Moore said, just that Urlacher is Urlacher.

The Bears aren't ready to grow accustomed to playing without Urlacher, but history screams that they'll have to get used to it sometime.

Urlacher participated in practice Monday, and Smith offered that everything was back to normal, though that's pretty much just Lovie-speak.

This no longer is the indestructible Brian Urlacher who on draft day in 2000 was a freak with all that size and speed and unlimited potential and endless future.

Regardless of how Urlacher holds up 13 seasons later, anyone familiar with the NFL understands that he's closer to the end than the beginning.

Now the question is less how many seasons Brian Urlacher can play and more whether he can make it through practice. Even Bears management will have to acknowledge that now.

The NFL is called the Nothing's Forever League for a reason.

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