Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has left the Chicago Bears to be with his family following the unexpected passing of his mother, 51-year-old Lavoyda Lenard, who died Monday, according to a statement released by the team. No other information has been given as to the reason for her death, and Lt. Brent Smith of the Titus County (Texas) Sheriff's Office told reporters that there was no evidence of foul play.
In a 2002 piece for ESPN Magazine, Urlacher called his mother "my heart."
"My mother, Lavoyda, unexpectedly passed away Monday at her home in Texas," Urlacher said in a statement. "My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest. This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you."
According to several sources, Urlacher was back at Halas Hall on Thursday, one day earlier than many expected, though it's unknown when or if he'd have to leave again for any memorial service.
Later Thursday morning, Urlacher posted this message on his Facebook page:
Back at practice. Thank you for your thoughts. Please send donations to: The Lavoyda Fund c/o City of Lovington Youth Center, 214 S Love St. Lovington, NM 88260
NBC Chicago reported on Thursday morning that Urlacher is expected to play Sunday, when the Bears face the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. The Bears were obviously prepared to be understanding if Urlacher didn't play, but they also know his value on the field.
"That's going to be tough for our football team [if Urlacher doesn't play Sunday]," Bears receiver Roy Williams told ESPN Chicago on Wednesday morning. "Whoever takes his spot [if necessary] will play well. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. He is the emotional leader of the football team, so we have his back."
Defensive end Israel Idonije agreed. "Our hearts are with him," Idonije said. "It's one of those times that you can't imagine, and 100 percent of our support is with him. At the end of the day, family and life comes first."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler talked about what Urlacher meant to a team that is 21-13 with Urlacher in the lineup, and 7-8 without him since 2008. "You can't replace a guy like him," Cutler said. "He's the heart and soul of this team."
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