Soon 30, he's taking care of body so he can be making tackles for quite some time
By Vaughn McClure, Tribune Reporter
1:16 p.m. CDT, October 23, 2010
The pain shooting through Lance Briggs' ankles might be bothersome, but the Bears linebacker contends his body is not wearing down as he approaches a new stage in his career.
Less than three weeks from Sunday, Briggs becomes an elder statesman, at least in the eyes of some of his younger teammates. On Nov. 12, the five-time Pro Bowl player turns 30. And Briggs would be lying if he told you he hasn't thought about it.
"I do think about how fast the years have gone,'' Briggs said. "There is going to be an end. But physically, I don't feel any different."
If anything, Briggs would argue how quickly he has recovered from severe sprains to both ankles this season while missing just one game before taking on the Redskins on Sunday. The nicks and bruises over his seven-plus seasons haven't accumulated into much time off: Briggs has missed just four starts in 112 games since becoming a regular.
Briggs firmly believes age is just a number, even if others think 30-something linebackers are on the decline. True, the average age of the league's top 10 linebackers in total tackles is 26, but that doesn't take away from the success of players such as 35-year-olds Ray Lewis, James Farrior and London Fletcher.
"They talk about how the 30-year-old running back has fallen off the face of the earth,'' Fletcher said. "But with the linebackers, I wouldn't say we're on our way out the door when we turn 30.''
Briggs need not look any further than his own teammate, 32-year-old Brian Urlacher, to see the type of resurgence a 30-something linebacker can enjoy. In his 11th season, Urlacher has battled through a groin strain and sprained thumb to lead with Bears in tackles (51, by the coaches' count) along with an interception and two fumble recoveries.
"There might not be too many of us in our 30s,'' Urlacher said, "but it's good to see those who are still making plays.''
If Briggs wanted to follow the ideal model on how to prolong his career, he might want to borrow Fletcher's manual.
The Redskins' defensive leader, now in his 13th season, will play in his 199th consecutive game Sunday and currently is tied with Peyton Manning for the second-longest active streak behind Brett Favre (292). Fletcher will start his 158th straight contest.
"It's very motivating,'' Briggs said. "Just inspiring.''
The 5-foot-10, 245-pound Fletcher, who once played for Lovie Smith with the Rams, said there's no secret to his durability.
"Just doing all the things pre-practice, during the offseason and during the preseason to maintain strength and flexibility whether it's massages, cold tub, hot tub,'' he said. "It's really about just really listening to my body, knowing how to practice. When you're young, you don't realize those things.''
Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking, now 34, said the key for him was dropping weight.
"Really, when I hit 30, I just became extremely conscious of what I was putting in my body,'' said the 6-2, 242-pounder. "I have a better body composition now than I had when I was 26, 27.''
In contrast, Urlacher, who weighed 243 as rookie, said he felt better gaining weight after last year's season-ending wrist injury. He now weighs 260 and said he feels stronger.
Briggs entered the league at 245 and remains at that weight.
"I look at him as a Pro Bowler, so why would I want him to think about changing this or changing that?'' Smith said. "Once a guy's play starts to decline, then you start looking at changing some things that he's doing."
During the Super Bowl in January, Briggs gained a different perspective on life after 30 for an NFL linebacker.
He had a heart-to-heart with close friend and fellow Arizona Wildcat Antonio Pierce, a former defensive star for the Giants and now an analyst for ESPN. The Giants released Pierce in February and he retired at 31 in July after nine seasons in large part because of a bulging disk in his neck.
"I'm not going to lie: It kills me,'' Pierce said. "There's no reason why I should not be playing. But my thing is, I had to think about my family and life after football.
"If they would have told me, 'Antonio, we need to cut your knee, or your hand, or your elbow,' hands down, I would have had the surgery. Now you're talking about a 6-inch scar on my neck, and not being able to turn my neck. That's when I had to say two or three more years playing is not worth the 30, 40 years of my life.''
Pierce offered sound advice to Briggs while the two sat at the Super Bowl, and it had everything to do with life off the field.
We all know that when you're younger, you like to have fun and enjoy the perks and benefits of the NFL,'' Pierce said. "So when you get older, you tend to cut down on that partying and after-football activities. Focus on what's important, and that's your job.''
Briggs still enjoys the nightlife, but he has lived a slower lifestyle ever since his infamous Lamborghini crash on the Edens Expressway.
"Your body's definitely not the same young, youthful body it was, so you have to take care of it," Briggs said. "And that's what I'm doing.''
In other words, he knows how to take good advice.
"Lance knows what he has to do to stay at a high level," Pierce said. "He has the nice contract now. The name is there. The play is there. If he prolongs his career, he could be a Hall of Famer at this pace."