Commentary

Image conscious

Briggs wants off-field reputation to match that on the field

Originally Published: August 6, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Lance Briggs wants to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He wants to be voted to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, he wants the Bears to win the Super Bowl and he wants people to believe he is a good man.

Not necessarily in that order.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
Warren Wimmer/Icon SMILance Briggs wants to rehab his off-the-field image.
The football part of his résumé is hardly in dispute. He led the team in tackles last season, finished second in 2007, 2006 and 2005 and was first in 2004. Over the past six seasons, he has the most interceptions returned for touchdowns (three) of any linebacker in the NFL. Over that same period, he also leads all linebackers in tackles for a loss.

"Somebody is going to have to take his position in the Pro Bowl right now," says Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich.

"You turn on the tape," says defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who is getting his first extended look at Briggs, "and he's his own man, one of the dominant linebackers in the league. Gosh darn, he's a force."

His durability is without question, having missed just two games in his six-year NFL career.

"He's a monster," says Bears tackle Tommie Harris. "You can't find any fault in him on the field."

Off the field, well …

It is not in any media guide. It's not the kind of thing that shows up on your Hall of Fame bust. But it's there, in his life bio, public knowledge. The Lamborghini ditching. The contract squabble and declarations that he would never play for the Bears again. The paternity and child support disputes.

"He does a lot in the community but it gets overshadowed by mistakes or things he's done in the past," Harris says. "But he does a lot. The guy is just a 100 percent stand-up guy."

A recent Chicago Sun-Times story reported that a Chicago attorney, in trying to win child support for his client, was claiming Briggs had fathered three children to three different women within a year of each other. Deadspin called him "The New Shawn Kemp," referring to the former NBA player who fathered multiple children by multiple women.

Sports fans have learned to separate the on-field exploits from the off-field transgressions. Briggs is not the first athlete or even the first current Bears linebacker to be involved in such squabbles.

Nowadays, it generally takes a violent crime or one of moral turpitude (see: Michael Vick) to get a real rise out of people. Briggs is, by all accounts, a loyal, hard-working, popular teammate.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Warren Wimmer/Icon SMILance Briggs has played under the shadow of Brian Urlacher.
Toiling largely in the shadow of Brian Urlacher throughout his career, he has never displayed jealousy, always "comes to play" and plays in pain. He is, inarguably, the most consistently outstanding player on the Bears' defense over the past five seasons.

In March of 2008, Briggs signed a six-year, $36-million contract with the Bears and his play and his passion never faltered.

"When I was in my [contract] dispute, that did put a bad taste in my mouth, but it wasn't necessarily football, it was the business side," he says. "Once you separate that from being on the field, football is a joy."

With the possible exception of his media boycott during the dispute, Briggs has always been a willing interview subject, likeable and articulate. He works with underprivileged kids but doesn't advertise it much.

He says never having had a winning season at the University of Arizona has fueled him and fortified him in the NFL. He says football is a refuge.

"Absolutely, no doubt about it," he says. "When you're on that football field, you actually have a clear mind. All you're thinking about is football and it's a great, great tool for things going on in your life outside that can stress you and bring you down. Football has always been a great outlet for that."

He says he has been shaken by catastrophic injuries over the past several seasons, particularly that of Buffalo's Kevin Everett in the 2007 season opener.

"That stuff hits me so hard," Briggs says. "Things like that put a lot of stuff into perspective for me. Pow, it can all be over."

But that doesn't detract from his NFL experience.

"I'm a very, very happy man," he says. "I've tried to do the right things and be responsible. And you leave all the rest of it in the Lord's hands."

Responsible? He seems earnest. So what to believe? How do you judge?

"Fans only really understand me as a football player and a guy who gives back to the community," he says. "From speculation on the off-the-field issues, fans have every right to make their own decision on how they feel about me. But people who really know me will say I'm a good man."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE NFL HEADLINES