For weeks, fans and media have watched Bears All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher and wondered, "What's wrong with the heart and soul of that Bears defense?" The question has been asked week in and week out and Urlacher has refused to address the question.
In an exclusive interview with FOX Sports, Urlacher finally revealed he's been fighting through a back injury that's caused pain and problems.
"It's a problem that started all the way back in camp," Urlacher said. "We've done x-rays, bone scans, MRI's, cat scans and this week I flew to Pittsburgh and met with a specialist. He confirmed what the team told me, that they think it's an arthritis type of thing. The thing that's so frustrating is there is no clear-cut solution to give me relief. I just have to deal with the pain."
Dealing with pain has been his only option, albeit a frustrating one. While other teams, fans and media have watched Urlacher play with an obvious obstacle, none has realized the extent of the injury he's been dealing with.
"The pain is actually worse than when I tore my hamstring a couple of years ago," he revealed. "That injury was worse because I missed games, but this causes more pain. It prevents me from bending and if I can't bend, I'm not able to be as athletic. I also can't backpedal like I need to. Right now we're trying to find pain solutions, I've got it shot a bunch to try to find some relief and actually it felt better last week.
"The frustrating thing is they can't pinpoint it exactly so I have no idea when it will hurt or hold me back, but the pain is pretty much always there."
Urlacher has been grilled by the media, and rather than open up he's bristled at questions and been standoffish, to say the least. In fact, he has even gone as far as limiting his answers to one-word responses.
"I haven't wanted to talk about it because I don't want it to be an excuse," Urlacher said. "Look, I'm out there, and if I'm out there playing I didn't want it out because I didn't want it used as an excuse by me or anybody else. I'm playing hurt, I'm not playing as well as I want to and they want me to explain everything.
"But I decided to open up about this because the media didn't like my answers and started saying I was doing a disservice to the fans. But the fans aren't the ones getting ticked about my answers. The fans aren't the ones who I'm trying to avoid. I just don't want to talk about an injury where there are no answers. But when the media throws the fan angle in, I'm talking. That's what I'm doing now. Don't use the fan excuse with me."
As for the injury, the team still believes that having Urlacher out there, pain and all, is still better than not having him out there at all. Urlacher says he'll continue to play through the injury for the rest of the year and simply hope for the best.
"As long as I can deal with the pain I'll be out there," he said. "It won't end my career, I don't need surgery and the team is trying to explore every possible thing for me to do to find me some relief. But it's just part of the territory of playing in the NFL. Even in practice Lovie (Smith) had convinced me to take off Fridays but I got embarrassed so I started working again. It's just how I am. If I'm not practicing, it's just how I've always been, it's embarrassing to me. If everyone else is out there and I can walk, I should be out there too.
"I just wanted to set the record straight with what's going on because all the speculating about me and the team has been very frustrating. We've been very inconsistent on both sides of the ball and we've lost games we shouldn't have. I'm part of that too and hopefully, I can get through this thing."
While Urlacher tries to remain optimistic, he was credited with just four tackles as the Bears were swept by the Lions heading into their bye.
There's a hippo in your pool
The tragedy in Southern California this week presented problems, many unforeseen and a few that are, well, downright completely bizarre. For Chargers special teams coach Steve Crosby, the effect the fire had on his house couldn't have been any wilder.
Crosby received the oddest of calls this week while the team was practicing in Arizona. Crosby's house is near the San Diego Wild Animal Park, a safari-type theme park in the San Diego area. Apparently, the fires ripped apart some openings in the park, allowing some of the animals to roam where they wanted.
Crosby received a call from his wife informing him that she walked outside to assess the damage and — get this — she found a hippopotamus in their swimming pool! A hippo! She called the authorities, who came and tranquilized the animal and removed it from their swimming pool.
On a less light-hearted note, kudos to Chargers owner Alex Spanos for donating a whopping $1 million to the fire relief fund in Southern California. The NFL is adding another $250,000 to the cause as well.
In addition, quarterback Phillip Rivers has donated his luxury suite to the family members of four firemen injured fighting the blaze. Great, great job.
The Jets placed Jon Vilma on Injured Reserve this week with what had been an undisclosed knee injury. Sources have told FOX Sports that Vilma actually cracked a piece of bone off his knee cap. He's due to get a scope on Monday and will go from there...
Texans WR Andre Johnson has been running and there is talk that he can return next week, but it's looking more and more like that is a little too optimistic. Is there a chance? Sure, but it's more likely he's another two weeks away at best….
Last week we reported that the Raiders were trying to trade RB Dominic Rhodes — their big free-agent addition this off-season — in the days leading to the trade deadline. Now, they're actually telling teams they wouldn't mind releasing him but they don't want their former head coach Jon Gruden to claim him off waivers. The Bucs are thin at RB despite trading for Michael Bennett.