- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Over the span of a decorated 13-year NFL career, former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher forged a reputation of a player willing to do almost anything to stay on the football field.
Urlacher started all 16 regular-season games in 10 of his 13 years in Chicago, despite the taxing physical demands of being the captain of the Chicago defense from his middle linebacker position.
In a recent interview with ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Urlacher said he never contemplated early retirement because of long-term health concerns, a hot-button issue in the NFL in the wake of 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland's decision to walk away from the game after just one season.
"It did surprise me because that kid [Borland] is a really good player," Urlacher said. "But I don't think football is headed in a bad direction because a few guys ... there might be some guys that think the long-term effects outweigh the gratification you get from playing football. There's always going to be one of those guys.
"I thought about the long-term effects, but I never thought about retiring because of it. I love football too much."
Urlacher feels fortunate to have suffered only one documented concussion in 182 regular-season games from 2000-12, but understands that many other players are not so lucky. Borland cited concerns over long-term head trauma when he announced his retirement on March 16.
"I don't know [Borland's] situation. I don't know if he's had a few concussions. I had one major concussion. It's different for each guy. For me, it was never an issue because I didn't have an issue with concussions.
"My lone concussion occurred in 2003 against Denver. I was spinning off block and right when I spun, I hit Clinton Portis with my head turned sideways. I hit him and I hit the ground. That was first big one where I was like 'Whoa.' Back then, it was no big deal. You'd just go back in."
The NFL has made considerable strides in concussion treatment and awareness in recent years, however, Urlacher thinks football carries with it a certain inherent risk that players need to accept before pursuing a career in professional football.
"You know, there are a lot of things that I really enjoy doing that you can get hurt doing," Urlacher said. "Driving a car, you can get into a wreck. I love to fly. You get on an airplane and you could die, too. When you step on a plane, it's your option to step on that plane because it could crash. There's risk in everything that you do. It's up to you to measure those risks and do what you want to do.
"Obviously the risk of playing football wasn't worth it to Borland. And that's his decision, just like it's everybody else's decision to play football."
Urlacher feels strongly enough about the game's safety that he plans to allow his nine-year-old son to one day graduate from flag football to tackle football.
"As safe as they try to make the game now with monitoring practices and the collisions they have in practices, I'm not worried about it," Urlacher said. "If he wants to play tackle football, I'll encourage him to play. I think football is a great game. And if you play it the right way and tackle the right the way ... there's always a chance you can get hurt. But that's just with everything you do.
"I want to let him play flag football as long as he can and as long as he wants to. I'm not going to rush him into tackle football. I started it when I was like 12 or 13. I turned out OK. I would say about the same time for him, seventh or eighth grade."
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