Although he spent last season's opening game watching from the couch at his home, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek never doubted that he'd be back by this year's first game and in the starting lineup.
"That's just the way my mind works, I guess," Dvoracek said in the Halas Hall locker room Wednesday. "I've always tried to turn negatives into positives. It seems to be the only productive way to go through life."
Dvoracek has definitely seen his share of negatives during his football career, but it's hard to dispute his ability to rebound both physically and mentally.
"It was pretty difficult for a while a year ago," he remembered. "I had surgery on my right foot just as training camp was winding down. It was something that couldn't be postponed, so I decided the best course of action was to get it over with."
While admitting that a season-ending injury was the last thing he'd hoped for during his rookie year, Dvoracek quickly discovered an upside to the situation.
"In a sense, I guess you could say I allowed myself to become a fan," he said. "As soon as I was able to, about three weeks after the surgery, I started standing on the sidelines. I ended up doing that throughout the season. I'd talk to the guys if they wanted something, but otherwise I just stood there and enjoyed the action. It was definitely a learning experience, but the most important part was that I discovered that football was fun."
Without plays to execute or defensive schemes to memorize, Dvoracek let himself be drawn into the excitement of each game.
"I allowed myself to relax in a way I never would have been able to had I been playing," he said. "I'd stand by the bench and just watch the guys go out there. Heck, I've been playing football since I was seven years old. I definitely love the game, but it's also a lot of work. For the first time, I was simply an observer. Of course, having such a great season for the team didn't hurt either. Every contest ended positively, and I was able to feed off of those good feelings."
DT Dusty Dvoracek (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Now Dvoracek is back in action and preparing for his first regular season NFL game against the Chargers. How does he feel?
"Completely thrilled," he shared. "It's what I'd hoped for during every rehab session last year."
In fact, Dvoracek now sees his time away as a benefit rather than a hindrance.
"It's really strange," Dvoracek said, "but I feel better than I ever did before I was injured. I suspect my body needed that extended timeout to rebuild itself. Now I find that my flexibility is better, my speed has improved, and my instincts for the game are sharper. And mentally, I couldn't be more prepared. Looking back, I really wonder if I would have been at this stage if I had played all of my rookie season. I guess we'll never know the answer for sure, but it's interesting to speculate."
Dvoracek is expecting a hard-fought contest in San Diego, and he couldn't be happier about that.
"Why not begin against a challenging opponent?" he rhetorically asked. "I'm ready to go, and the rest of this team is as well. Bring it on."
But what about that extensively-televised Nike commercial featuring a dominant Chargers offense – specifically reigning NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson – against a porous Bears defense? Any hard feelings?
"I don't let it get to me at all," Dvoracek said. "San Diego has a strong offense. I'm sure the team and their fans are enjoying that ad. Nike picked the storyline they wanted. Nobody disputes that Tomlinson is a fine player, but we went to the Super Bowl last year and that counts for something. Maybe Tommie Harris will have a few words about it, but if that's what Nike wants to show, that's fine with me. It's just a commercial, not real life. I think things will turn out much differently on Sunday. We'll be making our statement on the field."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for seven years and is the Author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
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