It happens to me everywhere that my life as a linebacker for the
Chicago Bears takes me--in restaurants, in airports, once even at
an NFL rookie photo shoot. "Where are you from?" someone will
ask. "New Mexico," I'll say, and then I watch their mouths drop
open and their eyes widen. "Wow," they'll say. "Mexico. What's
that like, man?" Or, "I didn't know they played football in
Mexico." And don't forget, "Wow! You speak such good English. You
don't even have an accent." ¬∂ That's not the only misconception
people have about my home state. They think it's just desert, and
I have to explain that there are mountains too. Cold weather and
warm weather. Skiing in the winter and golf pretty much
year-round--everything you could want within a four- to five-hour
drive. New Mexico is the best-kept secret in the United States.
And yes, it is a state.
I go back at least once every summer, when I host a kids'
football camp in Albuquerque, at the University of New Mexico,
where I played in college. The camp is always the best part of my
off-season--I get in there with the kids, throw the football
around and put them through some of the drills that players have
to run at the NFL combine. Sometimes I will let a kid beat me in
a drill (even though I hate to) because all the other kids get so
excited when that happens. I have to admit that I lost once when
I was trying to win, though--this 12-year-old beat me straight
up. He was a little guy with quick feet; I had no chance. At the
end of the drill, I acted as if I had slipped, but the kids went
berserk and jumped on me. I never heard the end of it for the
rest of the camp.
I'm always a sucker for the kids who have the least athletic
ability but work the hardest. The kids who bust their butts.
Those are the kids I really fall for, and I'll spend as much time
with them as possible. Maybe I take to them because they remind
me of myself. When I was that age, I was kind of chubby, not very
tall and not the best player, but I always worked hard.
The other great thing about the camp is that I get a chance to
hang out with some of my former high school coaches from
Lovington. They help coach the kids and help me run the drills,
and after camp is over for the day, we'll go to dinner, go to the
water park or play golf. We're all kids that week.
Jaime Quinones, who was the defensive backs coach while I was at
Lovington High, always comes to the camp. (I played safety in
both high school and college.) He pretty much molded me into the
player I am: He always made sure my brother Casey and I were in
the weight room by 5:30 in the morning--during the off-season. If
we didn't show up, he'd call our house.
Those early-morning workouts were good training for football and
for life outside the chalk lines. The summer before I went to
college, I worked in the oil fields near Lovington. I had to get
to work by 6 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. every night, wearing a
long-sleeved shirt so I wouldn't get sunburned in the 110° heat.
We put oil pipes in the ground, so there was always oil running
all over and you never knew what would happen--maybe even an
My father worked in the oil fields, and I know I could have
easily ended up there too. Lovington is a town with four
stoplights and a bunch of oil rigs, and when you grow up with
that life, you don't know anything different. I thought that was
what life was supposed to be--hardworking folks out in brutal
heat every day.
One summer of working in the oil fields was all it took to show
me that I didn't want to do that anymore. The other important
things I learned growing up in New Mexico stick with me
today--how to work hard, how to trust the guy next to you on the
line (pipeline or yard line), how to cuss in Spanish and, yes,
even a little English.
Former Lovington High and University of New Mexico standout Brian
Urlacher is a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO