Players and management appreciated personal and professional touch he will bring to Penn State
As Bears long-snapper Patrick Mannelly was leaving to catch the team bus to Green Bay on Christmas Eve 2005 for a game the following day, Mannelly's pregnant wife, Tamara, went into labor.
In his panic, Mannelly instinctively called the man so many Bears players trusted enough to call first during times of crisis the past 19 years. Who else? Head athletic trainer Tim Bream answered Mannelly the way he routinely has during a distinguished career, by calmly and quickly diagnosing the problem before devising a smart plan to solve it.
"Tim was calm, cool, collected and said, 'OK, here's what you do. Have your wife give birth, hopefully it happens in time. I'll have somebody pick you up game day and drive you to Green Bay. It's going to be fine,' '' Mannelly recalled Wednesday.
It was. Tamara gave birth to a daughter at 8:30 p.m., her husband spent the night at Evanston Hospital and the driver Bream had arranged picked Mannelly up early enough Christmas morning for him to play in the Bears' NFC North-clinching victory over the Packers.
Working for three head coaches since 1993, Bream never limited his job description to taping ankles and stretching hamstrings — a big reason he did it well enough to develop a reputation as one of the NFL's best.
"Tim's response that day made me relax and, more importantly, helped my wife relax,'' Mannelly said. "He was like a concierge too. I don't want to say he was in a motherly role but, to players, he was a caretaker.''
Bream began taking care of Penn State student-athletes Wednesday as the school's director of athletic training services and head football athletic trainer. When new Penn State athletic director David Joyner called his longtime friend last week, the allure of working at Bream's alma mater as it begins a new tradition was too strong for the Gettsyburg, Pa., native to ignore.
"If it wasn't Penn State I wouldn't have considered leaving,'' said Bream, 51. "It was a difficult decision. The McCaskey family always has been wonderful. The Bears spared no expense when it came to taking care of their players medically.''
The loss of Bream will affect some players even more than losing a position coach because of the rare bond Bream's personal approach fostered with stars and subs alike.
"He really understood what it meant to be a Chicago Bear,'' Mannelly said.
Former Bear Jerry Azumah remembers sitting alone with Bream during training camp in 2004, crestfallen, facing surgery on a herniated disk in his neck. Bream stayed as long as necessary patiently talking him through the pros and cons.
"He led me every step of the way, discussed my best options, everything from A to Z,'' Azumah said. "I trusted him and he had enough respect for you to give you honest answers. Tim didn't look at us as football players first but as human beings with lives outside football.''
When Brian Urlacher twisted his knee awkwardly in last season's finale, he feared the worst until Bream announced "within two seconds,'' that Urlacher hadn't torn a ligament. Urlacher came to trust Bream more than an MRI. In the 2009 season-opener at Lambeau Field, Urlacher recalled Bream asking what was wrong with his wrist before he disclosed anything about the dislocation that would end his season.
"A lot of guys get second opinions. I don't because Tim knew me better than I did,'' Urlacher said Wednesday. "Beyond injury stuff, he's a great friend.''
For many Bears, that won't change even if Bream's address will.
"There's a special relationship with Brian but with all players I just tried following the 'Golden Rule,''' Bream said. "It's cliche but I was taught as a student-trainer most times you're going to make the right decision on behalf of your athlete treating others how you'd want to be treated.''
Ask Bream the toughest injury news he ever had to share and he struggles. So many long faces come to mind. Azumah. Urlacher. Rex Grossman. Marc Colombo. But a recent bad memory remains fresh enough to haunt Bream; Johnny Knox lay on the field Dec. 18 with a fractured vertebra that eventually required surgery.
"That was pretty devastating and worrisome because it was his spine,'' Bream said. "But I think Johnny's going to be fine.''
Oddly, Knox's recovery will come under somebody else's watchful eye. Mannelly humorously drove that home by texting Bream a photo of him in Bream's old office with his feet on the desk. Mannelly's caption read, "I'm in charge now!''
A successor soon will move into that office. But nobody truly expects the Bears to replace Bream any time soon.