Where are they now: Mike Tomczak

Former Bears QB Mike Tomczak has seen a lot of action in the NFL since leaving Chicago. The journeyman player has been both a backup and a starter for the Packers, the Browns, the Steelers and the Lions. Now retired from football, Tomczak is in the sports management business and serves as a commentator for ESPN radio in Pittsburgh. Mike reflects on his time with the Bears and on his 17-year career in professional sports.

I came to the Bears as a rookie from Ohio State in 1985. What an experience. Going from college to the pros always requires a lot of mental adjustment and I certainly was no exception to that rule. I had been the quarterback at a large university so the overall atmosphere wasn't all that different in the NFL. A lot of the pressure, the fan enthusiasm, and the expectations were the same.

One of the first things that I learned with the Bears is that winning comes from a player's mindset. Sure, physical skills are important, but there has to be that overwhelming desire to succeed. A lot of guys in 1985 had that, which is why the team did so well.

Football has to be a day in and day out experience. It's not just something that you do when you feel like it. When I came to Chicago, which is where I grew up and had relatives, I was in a familiar situation. My family had been involved running a health club so I knew about keeping in shape and about setting fitness goals. That gave me an edge that not too many rookies had at that time.

For a young player, a lot of that first year is a growing process. You have to mature as a player and as a person. You have to learn to work within a system and to make the best of whatever they tell you to do. My situation wasn't ideal, but I think that I dealt with it well. Were my skills fully utilized during my six years with the Bears? Probably not. I felt that I was capable of more than I was given the chance to do.

Still, I made some good friends and I learned a lot about the world of professional football. Chicago helped me to form the foundation that was to last throughout my career.

I went from the Bears to a one-year job with Green Bay. Then it was on to the Browns for a year before I joined the Steelers. I played for Pittsburgh from 1993 through 1999, and then finished up in Detroit. I felt at home in Pittsburgh even though I eventually left that team. That is the city I returned to when it was time to retire. I still get back to Chicago, though, and hope to do more of that in the future. A lot of family and friends are still there.

What's it like to go from team to team? It's not as much of an adjustment as you might think it would be. I came in as a backup but often ended up starting. It was mainly a matter of confidence and preparation. I felt that I was versatile enough to handle either role well.

A good OL is consistent throughout the NFL. There is a common mind set. You take care of the guys up front and they are going to take care of you. That's always understood. The huddle is the same no matter where you are. The plays have different names, but it's pretty much slight variations on the same theme: you have to move the ball and keep your defense off the field. It doesn't matter that much whether you are throwing to a receiver from Detroit, from Cleveland, or from Chicago.

I think that I was always a reliable player. I had few injuries except for the broken leg that ended my career. I had some shoulder problems along the way, but that was about it. In general, it was a matter of luck and proper conditioning. I knew a lot about stretching and being physically prepared. That's the best way to stay healthy. Even out of football, I am very health and fitness oriented. In fact, I'm very interested in Pilates. It's an interesting mind-body technique that builds core strength and flexibility.

The transition from football to business went smoothly. I found sports management to be a natural progression because I had played so long and knew so many athletes. The radio work was a direct offshoot from my communications major at Ohio State. I also do some sports writing which is familiar territory as well. I'll be trying out for a larger role at ESPN radio. I certainly have opinions about sports in general and I think I'd do a good job for them.

The 2004 Bears look as if they are on their way to becoming an exciting team. I like Lovie Smith. He was a player and he knows the game. His coaching choices are good ones. I like the fact that Terry Shea has come in and that he has both Jonathan Quinn and John Tait on his side of the ball. That should help the transition as they implement a new system. This will be a different type of offense than has been traditionally used at Halas Hall.

I've liked what I've seen in Rex Grossman as well. Sure he's young and has a long way to go, but there's real potential there if he's brought along just right. I played against Quinn and I think he's the type of quarterback who will help Rex mature. He needs to teach Grossman how to find the "pulse" of the OL. That's the most important thing in being a good quarterback. You must communicate with your lineman at that unspoken level.

I was happy to see Ron Rivera get his chance. He's a good guy and he'll be a real force on the Bears. Ron was a smart player. He's a motivator and a teacher. I see him relating to the young players in a positive way.

This team is heading in the right direction. It's exciting. They have a new stadium, new coaches, and they're getting a lot of top players. The pieces are coming into place for positive results. It's going to be fun to see where things go from here.

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