Bears center Olin Kreutz has played 13 years in Chicago and has been named to the Pro Bowl six times.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Olin Kreutz isn’t much for reflection. He’s a grouchy, growling, grizzly Bear, more apt to smash the foe before him than muse about his distinguished career.
So when he agrees to pause and ponder his accomplishments, it’s a big deal. He does so with clenched teeth, a nod and wide eyes that scream for you to make it worth his time.
Then the former University of Washington star practically turns into a teddy Bear.
Well, for him.
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“You don’t ever think you’re going to play this long,” said Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl center who has been with the Chicago Bears for all 13 of his NFL seasons. “First of all, you don’t ever think you’re going to make the NFL, and to play 13 years, it’s really a blessing.”
You start to fire another question at Kreutz before his mood changes, but he interrupts.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”
For a man who has made a career out of being the baddest, meanest, toughest dude on the football field, his words are as close to sentimental as he allows. It figures he would be talking in this manner because he’s 33 and in the last year of his contract. After 182 regular-season starts for the Bears, second only to Walter Payton, Kreutz might be concluding his time with the only pro team he’s known.
The Bears have a crucial decision awaiting this offseason, but so does Kreutz. Chicago must measure how much game Kreutz has left, and if the Bears don’t win the Super Bowl, Kreutz must ponder if he’ll ever do so in Chicago. Then there’s the money issue. How much is a declining (but still valuable) center worth?
Kreutz will worry about those issues later. Right now, he’s preparing for the Seahawks. And he’s being prodded to recall his journey from third-round draft pick in 1998 to dominant offensive lineman.
Ask if he feels old. Kreutz grins and says, “Oh, yeah. Those 13 years, you feel it. And you don’t know much longer it’s going to last. That’s why I think, the older you get, the Super Bowl is the biggest thing you’re trying to accomplish. Your time is limited. You have to get all you can get before the game lets you go.”
Kreutz is just a wiser version of the player who played every minute at Washington with unrelenting intensity. He’s as nasty as ever, just refined.
“We all grow up,” he says. “When I was a rookie, I didn’t have four kids. I wasn’t married. So we all grow up and learn stuff as we go along.”
Ask what kind of stuff, and Kreutz doesn’t expound. He simply shoots a stare that suggests you do some practical thinking on the matter. When he does this, you’re thankful for his maturity. You’re thankful it has been five years since he punched teammate Fred Miller and broke his jaw.
Kreutz is staying close to his old college program. At the invitation of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, he has returned to campus for the past two years. He joined several old Huskies at the spring game last year and plans to stay connected to the program. He’s proud of the job Sarkisian has done in rebuilding UW.
“I think coach Sarkisian has done a hell of a job out there and taken them back to where they belong,” Kreutz says.
The old center from Hawaii has had to do his own rebuilding job this season. His leadership and football smarts have helped the Bears’ offensive line improve after a horrible start.
Earlier this season, he angrily endured the Bears allowing the New York Giants 10 sacks in a game that saw two Chicago quarterbacks leave with injuries. In that same stretch of the season, the Seahawks sacked Jay Cutler six times. The offensive line was a disaster, and Kreutz accepted a lot of the responsibility, even for things that weren’t his fault.
“Anytime we’re struggling, I take it personal,” he says. “Especially against a blitz. It’s kind of my job to get everybody on the right people and point out who we have to block. So I definitely take that personal.”
The Bears are more comfortable in offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system now, and the line has somewhat stabilized. And Kreutz isn’t so grouchy. He’s grateful to be back in the playoffs and to have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl and try to win it this time.
He’s also grateful to be a long-tenured Bear, even if he can’t express what it means perfectly.
“It means a lot,” Kreutz says, on the verge of getting emotional. “I really can’t put it into words what it means, but … I don’t know.”
He stops and smiles, and you know not to poke the Bear any further. Grouchy ol’ Olin has opened up enough.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com,