Despite a (now-resolved) contract dispute with the Chicago Bears, and several near misses in recent years in the chase for the Lombardi Trophy, linebacker Lance Briggs is as confident in his team's current roster as he has ever been. We recently spoke with the 7-time Pro Bowler about the future of the Bears, how he keep his own game at such a consistently high level, and the New Era sideline caps he discussed to begin our conversation. Briggs was doing a media tour this week for New Era, and he was excited about the new headgear.
"In the past, I hadn't worn hats on the sideline," Briggs said. "But the New Era hats will be worth wearing. I'm wearing one right now. I keep all the caps in my New Era tote bag. I travel with them, and I don't want to mess them up. It's a nifty thing to have. I keep my superhero hats in there -- my Batman hat, my Superman hat -- so it's right up my alley."
However, Briggs doesn't tie his on-field performance to a particular chapeau, preferring to leave his best performances up to his own skill and the Football Gods. "If that were to happen, then yes, I would wear that hat again," Briggs said about the possibility of hat-related excellence. "But I'm not superstitious ... at least not really superstitious about some things. I don't believe that we're going to win or lose based on what I wear."
In fact, Briggs doesn't subscribe to any particular pre-game rituals. "I really don't -- I just spend a lot of time at my locker, laughing and joking with my teammates and going over the playbook. So, yeah -- nothing in particular. I don't put my socks on left to right or anything like that!"
If Briggs did have any particular pre-game oddities, young linebackers would most likely give them a shot. Since he was taken by the bears in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Briggs has always put up solid numbers, and never had a real "dip year." He's missed just four games in his nine-year NFL career, and the stats point to a player whose performance you can pencil in without thinking about it. "For one, I've been fortunate not to have any major injuries. I've been lucky in that manner. But also, I just keep playing on, and playing the same way every time I take the field. I love to get on that field -- I love it more than anything."
That also applies to the consistency of Chicago's defense, which has remained in the top quarter of the league throughout most of Briggs' career. "We have a good core of players -- a leadership core," he said of that defense. "I think a lot of it starts with leadership; what your leaders allow and don't allow, and the rest of the players follow suit. I don't think there's a better leader out there than Brian Urlacher, and then you have Peanut Tillman, Julius Peppers, myself, and it starts with that core."
Of course, the offense hasn't always been at the same level -- when the Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLII, Rex Grossman's two picks revealed the quarterback's limitations. And when the Bears lost the 2010 NFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, all were left to wonder what might have been had Jay Cutler managed to avoid injury and stay in the game. Did Briggs and his defensive cohorts ever blow a gasket at their less-than-efficient offensive counterparts? "Not at all. Not at all. We're going to be competing to be the best defense in the league, and offensively, they're going to compete to be the best offense in the league. And the better they are, the closer they are to being that top offense, the happier were going to be, the happier our city's going to be, and the more successful we're going to be. It's the same thing on defense. I could never be upset about out team's success."
Cutler was maligned for his supposed refusal to play through pain in that game, though some feel that the criticisms lobbed at him by fans, the media, and even other players around the NFL had more to do with Cutler's personality. Briggs tried to tell of a different side. "Some people think he's unfriendly, and that's not the case," Briggs said of his current quarterback. "That's all I've got! Or, they say he's not tough. His toughness has never been a issue. You know who your leaders are when you have guys that the team rallies around, they give us those last words of wisdom before the game. And that's always been, as long as I've been here, it's been Brian [Urlacher], it's been Olin Kreutz at some points, and Jay Cutler."
And what did Briggs think of receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been reunited with Cutler after the two played together in Denver? "He's a very big man! To be that big and that fast and to move the way he does -- you know, he's one of a kind."
Briggs recently got his contractual issues workout with the Bears -- the remaining two years on his recent deal were modified and extended with an extra year, and he's now in the fold through at least 2013. That said, he feels for Bears running back Matt Forte, one of the best at his position, who's trying to get paid what he's worth as well.
"Well, I don't have to tell Matt Forte what his value to our team is," Briggs said, when asked about players getting paid what they're worth. "He's proven himself, and I think we all know how valuable he is. But as far as players getting compensated, this is not a guaranteed league. Football is not like baseball or basketball, where if you sign a deal with a team, that's the money you're going to make, no matter what. So, this league is built off of, 'What have you done for me lately?' Either you're performing at the level of your contract, or you're underperforming, or you're overperforming. And if you're underperforming, teams tend to cut you or trade you, or do what they want with you. When you're outplaying your contract, as a player, you have to go to your team and ask for a raise. And if they don't want to give you a raise, you ask to be traded or to get another opportunity to make more money while you can. It's a business."
And for Lance Briggs, business is good.