Life is short in the NFL. Like the old coach Jerry Glanville once famously said, the league's initials stand for "Not For Long." Whether it's a college star going undrafted, a player getting released for the final time, or a coach getting fired even after a successful season, eventually the game extinguishes all but a few.
And then, of course, there are injuries. When the Bears take the field against Cincinnati to start the season, one man who will not be running out of the tunnel is cornerback Kelvin Hayden, a Chicago native and alum of Hubbard High School and the University of Illinois.
The 30-year-old Hayden tore his left hamstring during Family Night at Soldier Field on Aug. 3 and was placed on injured reserve a few days later. Two days before his injury, I spoke with him and a number of other Bears about their "welcome to the NFL" moment, that moment when a player realizes the full weight of what he has accomplished, and what he has in store. Of all the players who shared their memories, I was most moved by Hayden's.
"It had to be the first time I stepped on the field," he said, smiling as the memories came back to him. "Actually, it was a preseason game. We played in Japan. We were playing the Atlanta Falcons. I remember it like yesterday.
"The first time I was thrown out there in the first quarter, everything was a blur. Everything was just happening so fast. I made my first tackle on Warrick Dunn, someone I looked up to growing up. He went to Florida State, somewhere I wanted to play at when I was playing running back."
Hayden thought about his eight years in the NFL, the few he has remaining, and the boy who once dreamed of making the league.
"It was just an amazing thing for me being a kid from the South Side of Chicago, and now I'm actually out here in Japan playing in an NFL game." He smiled again. "That was the 'Welcome To the NFL' thing for me."
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. Say hey @readjack.
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