When can facing a legendary player be considered good news for a sports team? Maybe when that opposing star is past his prime, however slightly, or maybe when he is trying to recover from a significant injury. Certainly, if a "name" player is getting a little long in the tooth and a bit banged up, opponents might look to turn his misfortune into a competitive advantage. As Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts prepare to kickoff the first real game of this post-Peyton Manning era, they are faced with precisely this situation. To wit, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has been nursing an injured and surgically-repaired knee all off-season but is slated to start against the Colts on September 9 at Soldier Field. Will the Colts be able to capitalize on the 34-year-old's rustiness, or will Urlacher show up with his old fire and verve?
For his part, Urlacher acknowledges that his knee will probably never function the way that it did in his younger years, when he established himself as one of the most fearsome run-stoppers and short-yardage pass defenders in the league. During his first decade-plus in the NFL, Urlacher has also developed a reputation for healing quickly and gritting it out when a rapid recovery is not in the cards. Even if he does manage to line up next Sunday, there is no guarantee that he will be effective or that he will last long. He practiced sporadically during the summer, missed the entire pre-season schedule and had arthroscopic knee surgery less than a month ago.
If Urlacher is in the lineup for an extended period against the Colts, his presence might give a young offense the rare opportunity to make a name for itself against a legend of the game. Running back Donald Brown is still trying to establish himself as an everyday back and could be bolstered by a strong performance against the Bears. Likewise, while all of us hope and think that quarterback Andrew Luck is going to be something special, he could get an early boost if he's able to exploit a weakness in the middle of the Chicago defense. A few short dumps to Brown or tight end Coby Fleener might be enough to open up the field a bit and take some of the early pressure off.
Of course, Urlacher has been counted out before, nearly every time he's nicked up. So far, he has always come back in fine style, and it won't be surprising if he does the same against the Colts. It sure would be nice to see come quick yardage over the middle come Sunday, though.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.