Chicago Bears support Brian Urlacher as linebacker mourns loss of his mother
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When Brett Favre played in a "Monday Night Football" game the day after his father's unexpected death at age 58 in December of 2003, Favre was lauded for his courage and heart and leadership.
On Monday, Lavoyda Lenard, the mother of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, died unexpectedly at 51, and though one would suspect Brian will play this Sunday in New Orleans, there was no word immediately whether he will be available.
"Right now, we're just there to support Brian," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's there to support his family, which is what I want him to do. And he'll let us know where we're going to go from there."
Few players could miss a week of practice and still be prepared to play an NFL game.
"But if there's going to be anybody who's going to be able to handle it," said Nick Roach, who would be the obvious replacement for Urlacher, "it's going to be him."
On the night Favre played, after vowing he would not let his football family down, he passed for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the first half en route to leading the Packers to a 41-7 victory over the Raiders to keep their division title hopes alive.
Favre was still a popular football hero then, before scandal and ego would tarnish that image, and he was painted as a warrior, triumphing despite a broken heart. Favre even received a respectful ovation from the usually malicious Oakland crowd when he ran out to start his 205th consecutive game, an NFL record for quarterbacks.
"I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play," Favre said.
It was not an unheard-of sentiment. Men and women have competed, coached, operated, taught and walked police beats after personal tragedies. Many don't have a choice.
"It was out of season when I went through it, so I can't tell you what Brian is going through right now," said Smith, who lost his mother Mae earlier this year and recalled that Urlacher was one of the first to call him. "But I know sometimes when you're going through tough times, the best thing for you to do is get back to something you like doing and football is very important to Brian."
To perform at the level Favre did that night eight years ago was undeniably impressive. It would be different for Urlacher as he would be playing six days after his mother's passing. But there's no doubt it would be difficult.
"It's one of those times when you can't imagine what someone is going through and 100 percent of our support is with him," said defensive end Israel Idonije.
"At the end of the day, family and life comes first and that's a priority before anything else."
Right now, we're just there to support Brian. He's there to support his family, which is what I want him to do. And he'll let us know where we're going to go from there.” -- Lovie Smith
Just the same, the Bears would no doubt miss Urlacher. Considering that he scored one touchdown last week on a fumble return and set up another with a diving interception to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, they may lose without him against a potent Saints' offense.
"His fierce hunger for competition and to win is contagious," Idonije said. "The guy wants to win, he's very competitive and he takes his job very seriously. He really is that uniting factor as far as our defense and getting everyone into position. He has a special and really large role he plays."
Other athletes have done amazing things in the wake of personal tragedies, even the youngest of competitors. Earlier this year, a high school baseball player outside Denver pitched a no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader, then hit four home runs in the second to clinch his team's league title two days after his mother died. In another case, a freshman basketball player at a New Hampshire high school honored his mother five days after her death by scoring one point for each of the 46 years she lived.
Like Favre, they were also called heroic. They were also in grief.
Just like Urlacher will be.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.