SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Takeo Spikes isn't ready to quit. Not now at least. Even in his 13th NFL season, just a few days from his 34th birthday, he needs to keep going.
"I want to keep playing until I get that ring," he says.
When you understand what Spikes has gone through, how many games he's played and how many practices he's endured, you begin to see why he wants to push forward, why he wants to get one more season out of his body.
Spikes has never been to the playoffs. He's come closely only once. He's played on just one winning team, the 2004 Buffalo Bills. His teams have a cumulative 64-118 record.
He can't leave the game like that. It doesn't matter that he's played in two Pro Bowls and made one All-Pro team. Or that he's had nine 100-tackle seasons. Or that he's playing some of his best football at an age when most linebackers are long retired.
He needs to get to the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers are this year's chance, but Spikes knows it won't be easy advancing to the postseason. At 4-7, they face long odds despite playing in the NFC West. Sunday, they meet the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field knowing that their next loss could be the one that finally knocks them out.
"I think about it all the time," Spikes said. "Is it tough? Yeah, it's tough. But I think that's what really defines a man, especially defines guys in this locker room, when you have to come to work, put your shoes on every day, roll up your sleeves and say, ‘I don't care how bad I feel, I don't care how sore I am, I still have to get it done' – not only physically but mentally as well."
Spikes has surely done that, despite the toll that 182 games has taken on his body. But he's playing some of his best ball and giving the 49ers' 11th-ranked defense a sizable lift.
"He's an older guy that's been busting his butt to get to the playoffs," said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "He's had a good season consistently from week to week. We're always counting on him to lead the guys, and he has."
But unless the 49ers keep winning, it could be another losing season and another year without the playoffs. And yes, it weighs on Spikes.
"That's why I'm still playing, you know?" he said. "But does it weigh on me personally? No, because I understand that it's a team game. Football is the ultimate team sport. I was taught that at a young age by Dick LeBeau (his defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and Buffalo). He always talked to me about that because I used to be frustrated in my early years at Cincinnati."
In a way, the frustration hasn't subsided. Spikes is still trying to get to the playoffs, and if it doesn't happen this season, maybe it will happen somewhere else next year. He's at the end of a two-year contract and will be a free agent when the season ends.
Until then, his hopes are on this team and this season. There's no time to think about quitting.
"You can tell by the way he goes out there and practices, by the way he plays, by the things he says," teammate Patrick Willis said. "I know he's never been to the playoffs. A lot of us here have never been to the playoffs. Some guys that have been here their whole careers haven't been to the playoffs. You can't think, well, we got next year, because you never know what next year will bring. All we got is this year, and we got to make the most of it now."