The possibility loomed that Dec. 16 would be Brian Urlacher’s final home game with the Bears.
Now the possibility looms that Sunday’s was.
Neither might be because Urlacher could play here again this season, perhaps in a playoff game at the end of his current contract. He also still might return to the Bears next season on a new deal.
Uncertainty prevailed Tuesday afternoon when reports circulated that an MRI revealed Urlacher has a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
The injury might be season-ending, might be career-ending, might be neither. Who knows concerning a 34-year-old middle linebacker with 13 years worth were of NFL lumps?
Urlacher began the season still rehabbing a knee injury and will end it battling the hamstring injury.
Not long ago Urlacher was looking ahead to four more NFL seasons, then maybe three, then perhaps two.
Now how many, if any?
This latest crisis began innocently enough near the end of the overtime loss to Seattle, with Urlacher signaling to the sideline that he needed to come out. It could have been an equipment malfunction for all anyone knew.
However, little is innocent in the Neanderthal Football League.
The game is so brutal that somewhere out there is a play that could end any player’s career at any time.
Just as brutal is the business side, as in Bears management having to decide what to do with Urlacher after this season.
Middle linebacker is a physically vulnerable position. Urlacher will turn 35 years old in 2013. His body is breaking down. He’ll be a free agent.
His name still is Brian Urlacher, however, and that has meant something to the Bears since they drafted him ninth overall in 2000.
What to do, Bears?
Sentimentality says Urlacher has earned the right to leave Chicago when he wants. Reality says the Bears will decide his fate.
Maybe there’s a compromise in which the Bears are sentimental enough to offer Urlacher a manageable salary and he’s realistic enough to accept. Maybe incentive dollars will be included in the agreement. Maybe there will be a reduced role on defense. Maybes dominate the future.
McCaskey family members must have soft spots in their hearts for Urlacher, as they had for other prominent Bears, and he must have one for them.
Yet even before this season Urlacher acknowledged that it could be his last with the franchise he has been the face of this entire century.
Urlacher could envision the end even though he couldn’t see exactly when and where. Is it now? Is it here? Is it possibly even in dreaded Green Bay where other fabled Bears like Jim McMahon and Mongo McMichael went on to spend time?
There were so many questions even before the weekend and so many fewer answers after Tuesday’s news arrived.
I’m not much of an NFL romantic anymore. Players come, players go, the seasons change, and the game proceeded without Dick Butkus and Walter Payton and will sometime or other without Brian Urlacher.
If that sounds like I lean toward the Bears severing ties with Urlacher, yes, probably so.
The Bears’ problem is they have so few options in replacing Urlacher, whether it is this month or next year.
Just as the Bears were better off this season with a lesser Urlacher, it could be that they would be next season, too.
The end, or near end, of a great NFL career rarely is uncomplicated.
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