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Quite simply, Bears’ Kreutz is a hard man

WP: Next to linebacker Brian Urlacher, Bears center Olin Kreutz might be the most important player on this Chicago team.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

In the hallway of the hotel a dais loomed, topped with a table and a microphone. Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz climbed it grudgingly Sunday night. He never liked these things that go with being a football player — the celebrations, the spectacles, the big ordeals.

On the night his team arrived in town to play in the Super Bowl, the last thing he wanted to do was sit on a dais in the hallway of a Miami airport hotel and explain to the mass of faces below how much fun it was to be here. He smiled wanly.

"This is a pain in the [butt]," he said neither coldly nor sarcastically. It was simply how he felt.

But it is the Super Bowl and the NFL and the Bears asked him to be one of a handful of players at the table, smile some, talk about the offense, the running backs, the Indianapolis Colts and whatever else people wanted to ask about. So he pulled on a blue shirt and a dark suit and made the slow walk to the lobby and the dais.

"It's not my style," he said. "I don't like this stuff. But we have to do it so we do it."

If he had a choice of what a perfect day would be, he would sleep all morning, then go outside and play football. Sunday was definitely not a perfect day. And with four more afternoons of interview daises and conference room tables ahead, taunting him with rows of television cameras, radio reporters and questions about things he never in his life ever thought of, it doesn't seem like the next few days will be much better either.

Yet next to linebacker Brian Urlacher, he might be the most important player on this Chicago team. Despite playing an anonymous position and perhaps wishing to forever remain anonymous, he is as big a reason as any the Bears rushed for 316 yards in their two playoff games. Nobody, you see, pushes Olin Kreutz around.

"If I were to choose one of a half-dozen of my players to have my back forever, it would be him," said Jim Lambright, his coach at the University of Washington, when reached by phone Sunday. "Once he decides he's on your side, he will be there. He takes great pride in his decisions."

In a game of intimidation, where players preen and growl to instill fear in their opponents, Kreutz simply walks onto the field. That is usually enough. At 6 feet 2, 292 pounds, he is not imposing in a game of behemoths, but he has a past. Twice, he has cracked the jaws of teammates in disputes. The first was at Washington when he punched Sekou Wiggs after a practice argument — a shot that smashed the jaw in two places, requiring it to be wired shut for months. The other came last year when he got into a fight with Bears offensive lineman Fred Miller at an FBI shooting range. Miller missed only a game.

Three times Kreutz has been to anger management training.

"If you push him a little bit, you better watch out," Lambright said.

In football this is seen as a good thing.

Ask where the toughness comes from and Kreutz throws his head back and laughs. "I don't know, man, I don't have an answer to that question."

But eventually he does, like he always does. Because it is not hard to understand Kreutz once he talks about his mother's father and the house he had just outside of Honolulu. Kreutz's grandfather trained men to be strong, working them out in a gym he built in the open-air space beneath his home. Inside were piles of weights. The biggest rule was simple: be neat.

Much like with the grandson, people did not cross him.

"I get a lot from him," Kreutz said. "He showed me how to work hard and how to have a sense of pride in what I do."

Kreutz said he spent much of his childhood in that gym.

"It's where I spend most of my time now," he said.

Around the coaches who were at Washington when he was recruited, the grandfather's gym remains something of a legend, the descriptions probably growing more outlandish as the years go on.

"I've just heard the stories about it, but they're true," Lambright said with a chuckle.

He looked the part of a football hooligan with a shaved head and fierce eyes that bore straight into their questioner. And yet there also is this: Kreutz might be the best leader the Bears have. As much as his legend has blossomed because of the fights and since he has never warmed to public speaking, he has always been seen as a kind of rogue presence, someone to tread lightly around.

But he also is aware of his place as one of the best centers to play the game, even if he has little use for the whole legacy thing, as he said from the dais Sunday evening. He grew up studying the position, learning how the best ones moved their feet, pushed off the ground and moved men backward with their forearms.

Then he came to the NFL and has done just that for 70 straight games — 74 if you include playoff games. This, after all, is what he loves most. Knocking men across the football field.

The show, the hype, the fame?

He puts his lips together and shakes his head.

Not the style of a football tough guy.