With a new head coach, did the first day of practice feel reminiscent of the first day of school?
Yeah because you didn’t really know what to expect. Every coach has a theme and they have a way that they practice so it took a few days to get used to how he likes his practices to go.
Brian Urlacher will be missed on the field but what is something you’re personally going to miss about him?
Just his big dumb smile! I’ll miss just being around the locker room and listening to him, hearing him laugh and the jokes we’d play on one another. Just his overall presence I’ll miss for sure.
What are your pre-game rituals?
I have several. To give you a short version, Lance Briggs is the only guy I’ll warm up with. I won’t warm up with anybody else. He’s the only one because we’ve done it for so long, we’ve been doing it since ’04. Even if one of us is injured you’re still at the game so you still have to warm that person up. It’s the routine.
Tell us about your tattoos.
Living in Europe I traveled a lot. I went to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and saw Michelangelo’s depiction of “The Last Judgment” and it just completely blew my mind. It’s so cool to see it in person because it’s this massive wall of art so to think this guy did this way back when and the anatomy of how he drew it is completely mind-blowing. When I saw it in person I thought, “I gotta get that,” so on the right side it shows the hell side and there’s demons and skeletons and the devil and then on the other side you have Apostle Paul, Jesus and everything [showing heaven]. I want to add on up here to the chest on the heavens side but I gotta find a good portrait tattoo artist.
You and your wife Jackie have your hands full with three daughters and a son. What kind of father are you?
I’m the strict one. I’m definitely the strict one. I’m real big on respect. I love my kids and I’ll throw ’em around and we’ll swim and I’ll let them eat ice cream but at the same time when I say, “No,” or when I ask you to do something, you better do it. And they know! They know.
If we asked your wife what kind of husband you were, would she say you’re the romantic type that brings home flowers?
That is definitely not me! [Laughs] I’m the kind of husband who plays jokes all of the time. She could go to the bathroom and she’ll come out and I’ll have it pitch black in the house and I’m hidin’ somewhere. I’ve done that so much that my daughters do it too now. They’ll creep around the corner and say, “Shh!” and I’ll keep the conversation goin’ with my wife until my daughter jumps out and goes, “RAH!” We’re a house of scarers.
Your dad was a sergeant in the Army. Would you have enlisted if football didn’t pan out?
Oh, for sure! For sure. If I would have never gotten a scholarship I’d be in the Army right now.
What do you remember most about growing up a military brat?
I remember when we were in Germany, I was probably 6 or 7 and my dad was in a tank battalion. He didn’t drive the tank but he was issued the truck so he had one of these big-rig trucks that had his name on it and at that time I thought it was really actually his own [personal] truck. This was in the early-mid ’80s so it had the Army CamelBak then and I remember getting in these trucks and my brother and I used to act like we were driving. My dad used to have some of his tanker friends there, they’d be at the motor pool and we’d go inside the tanks and act like G.I. Joe, “Boom boom! I shot you!” That was always cool because I was always around military personnel and helicopters and tanks and guns, I saw it all. I never got to shoot any of them obviously but I got to see it and be around it.
How did that lifestyle prepare you for a career as a professional athlete?
I think it helped as far as my personality. One of the things about your dad being in the military is you’re moving every two, three years so it’s about being able to adapt in different environments. In third grade we went from Fort Riley, Kansas to Ohio to North Point, Germany all in one year. I remember when I got to school in Ohio they were already doing cursive and I didn’t know how so I had to learn quick, I had to get it on the fly. I was in that school for three months before we moved to Germany and when I got to school there I was the only kid who didn’t know how to do long division. I was just like, “Well, damn! Okay, please don’t call on me!” You know? [Laughs] But it really just helped me develop quickly. You gotta be able to adapt. You gotta be able to get it just like [snaps fingers], just like that.
Does it feel strange to now have been in one spot for 11 years?
Believe it or not, yeah. Once I got to high school I stayed put for four years, then college was another four years so when I got here after my fourth year I was ready to move. In 2008 I was like, “I’m ready to go soon,” because my entire life it’s the only thing I’ve ever known and my wife is the same way. She graduated from school over in Germany and was in a new school every two or three years so we were both conditioned the same way and for us four years is a long time. So to be here in one spot 11 years, it’s the longest I’ve ever lived in a place in my entire life.
Outside of football, who is an athlete you really admire?
Kobe [Bryant]. I admire his work ethic because he always wants to dominate, he wants to win. If you haven’t won, you’ve lost and I can appreciate his passion to work hard and to be the best. If the game is on the line it’s like, “Well, then give me the ball and I’m gonna take it. If we win, we’re the champs but if we lose, ya’ll will hate me but I’m still gonna take it and put everything on my shoulders. I’m gonna put the team on my back and I’m gonna carry us to that championship.”
Where do you and your family live?
We live in the Libertyville area.
We go to Fleming’s in Lincolnshire. It’s in the area, it’s close so you don’t have to drive down to the city and sit in some of that traffic.
With four kids under the age of 10, what TV shows have you found yourself following at home?
“Perry the Platypus”!
We’re at Kings Lanes gearing up for your Celebrity Pro Bowler Tournament. How are your bowling skills?
Sh-tty, they are pretty terrible. A lot of gutter balls! In 10 frames I might get two or three gutter balls but on average I can shoot triple digits. A triple take! The low 100s is normal for me so the 1-0-somethings is what I’ll probably get. The cool thing about having the event at Kings is my family and I come here a lot in our downtime. I was just here on Friday for lunch so we come here a lot and bowl. It’s a great area and a great environment.
How has the mission of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation grown over the years?
It has evolved a lot over the years. We initially got started in 2005 as an education-based organization helping Chicago public schools. When my daughter got sick in 2008 I decided to change the mission of the foundation to an organization that helps chronically ill children so that’s how it came to what we have right now.
What has been the most rewarding part of it for you?
When my daughter was in the hospital there was a 17-year-old kid who was in the hospital at the same time who I developed a relationship with. My daughter was only 3 months old at the time so I couldn’t talk to her but he would be in his room by himself a lot of the time because his parents had to work so I would go in his room and talk to him. It was pretty cool and when he finally got out we still kept in contact. To see him grow from that teenager to a man and to have the kind of close relationship we had was really cool. I will say the hardest part about having a foundation that works with kids is that some of the children do die and that’s the sad part. The kid that I was talking about [in this story] ended up passing away when he was about 21. It was really hard but also I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to know him. I feel so blessed to have been able to somewhat have an impact on his life because he definitely had an impact on mine.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I’d like to have a drink with Colin Powell. His leadership qualities are impeccable. To get up there and to be on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you gotta be smart but at the same time you gotta be a better leader to be able to lead our nation and lead a bunch of men into harm’s way.
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