Up-Close: Brendon Ayanbadejo

Without the help of Brendon Ayanbadejo the Bears may have left Washington with a goose egg on the scoreboard. The special teams ace forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half, which helped the Bears take a brief lead against the Redskins. Now he hopes to make an impact back in his hometown.

Recently acquired reserve LB Brendon Ayanbadejo would seem to be the quintessential product of a Southern California upbringing. He spent much of his childhood in Santa Cruz California and later attended UCLA. But his favorite NFL team while growing up was not a representative from a sun drenched state. Instead, Ayanbadejo always rooted for the Bears.

"People think of me as a West Coast kind of surfer guy, but they forget that I lived in Chicago until I was ten years old," Ayanbadejo said. "I left the Midwest in 1986, right after the excitement of the Super Bowl XX win. Although I resided in other parts of the world after that, including a time in Lagos, Nigeria, I was always a Chicago native at heart. No other professional football team ever caught my attention the way that the Bears did."

Now that Ayanbadejo has donned the orange and blue, he can hardly believe his good fortune.

"I think if you have been around the league a little bit, which has been the case for me during my playing career, you recognize immediately when a team is the right fit," Ayanbadejo said. "As soon as I walked into Halas Hall, I felt as if I'd come home at last. It was wonderful. My goal now is to stick with the team and to become an impact player for the Bears."

Actually, this is Ayanbadejo's second stint with Chicago after being signed by the Bears in January of 2000 and subsequently waived by the team that August.

"I was not particularly happy when that happened," he said. "I'll do everything in my power to make certain something like that never occurs again."

As part of a sports oriented family and as prep stars at Santa Cruz High School, Ayanbadejo and his younger brother Obafemi always felt they could develop the skills necessary to play with the pros. Both eventually succeeded. Obafemi was Brendon's teammate during the 2003 season in Miami and is currently a fullback for the Arizona Cardinals.

After a strong college career during which he totaled 185 tackles and 10 INTs, Ayanbadejo entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He was signed with Atlanta in April of 1999. He was waived by the Falcons in August of 1999 and went to the CFL until being picked up by the Bears in 2000.

After leaving Chicago, Ayanbadejo was signed by Baltimore and then allocated to NFL Europe in 2001. Ayanbadejo was back in the CFL in 2002 until signing with the Dolphins at the end of that year. He played two seasons with Miami and established himself as a special teams standout.

The coaching staff change in Miami left Ayanbadejo on the outside looking in, which led to the trade to Chicago for TE John Owens and a conditional draft pick. Ayanbadejo hopes that his traveling days are finally at an end.

"You can only move around so much before it gets wearing," Ayanbadejo said. "It was fine while I was younger and still had a lot to learn, but I feel that I have matured and my game has progressed to where I can now produce quite well at this level. I've sensed all along that I belonged in Chicago. With this second chance, I plan to prove I can contribute to this team. "

Ayanbadejo did well enough to have been chosen as a second alternate on special teams to 2004's AFC Pro Bowl team.

"I like the situation here in Chicago," Ayanbadejo said. "I feel that my skills should prove to be a good fit. I'm quick and strong and have a good instinct for the game. Not much rattles me out there on the field but when I need to be aggressive, I can do that, no problem. I like the Bears' physical approach to the game. That suits my talents perfectly."

It's clear that Ayanbadejo feels comfortable now, physically as well as mentally. After minor knee surgery last March he had been plagued by soreness until Bears strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones stepped in.

"There's a reason that Rusty is known as the best in the business," Ayanbadejo said. "He felt that my overall problem was a lack of flexibility. Rusty designed a program to take care of that situation, and I'm completely pain free at last. I feel stronger than ever and much more able to concentrate on my moves."

The home opener will prove to be a family affair with Ayabadejo's remaining Chicago based relatives planning to visit Soldier Field for the contest against Detroit.

"It's just perfect, a dream come true," Ayanbadejo said. "I think back to all those years when I was a little kid who wanted to play for the Bears. I'd watch them on TV or drive by the stadium and picture myself right in there with them. Now that it's happening, it's incredibly exciting. After all the football I've played at the professional level you might think that one game is pretty much like another. That's not true for me right now, however. This game will have a special meaning and I plan to savor every minute."

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