Wednesday, October 10, 2001
[ NFL HAWAII ]
HAWAII'S CENTERS OF ATTENTION
Best friends are rivals in the NFL's Black and Blue division
Imagine Olin Kreutz is talking to you, loud and clear, but all of a sudden his voice fades away.
Kreutz has a mean streak
as an anchor on Bears' line
Raiola sings in Motown
By Nick Abramo
No, you're not lying on the ground, dazed, the latest victim of a pancake block by the 6-foot 2-inch, 285-pound veteran center for the Chicago Bears. It was just his cellular phone fizzling out. There was no hit, no knockout, and he called back from a standard phone a few minutes later.
Kreutz's opponents on the football field might not be so lucky. It's not uncommon for the former St. Louis School and University of Washington standout to flatten an oncoming defender.
As a matter of fact, he's developing a reputation in the NFL as one of the best players at his position.
"Olin's a really good player," Bears offensive line coach Bob Wiley said. "He has good, quick feet, and he plays with a mean streak in him."
Kreutz is in his fourth season with the Bears after being drafted in the third round of the 1998 draft. He was pumped up about the team's 17-10 upset victory over Minnesota two weeks ago, and he feels like the team hung in there in a 17-6 season-opening loss to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The Bears improved to 2-1 on Sunday by drilling the Atlanta Falcons 31-3.
"We played well in the first half against Baltimore, but we didn't finish it," Kreutz said before the Bears visited the Falcons. "Then, against Minnesota, we had a bad first half, but we finished strong. We have to pull it all together. In both games, our defense was strong, so that's a good sign. Now we just have to pick it up on offense."
After such a decisive win against Atlanta, it looks like they were able to pull it together.
"I'm 24 years old and I have two bad knees and a bad shoulder. That's part of the reason why we get paid so much. I can honestly say I wouldn't be playing for free right now." Olin Kreutz
One of Kreutz's biggest goals this year is to stay healthy, because he spent more than half of last year out of action due to separate injuries to both knees. He also had some shoulder problems.
Kreutz played every game in 1999, missing only a portion of one game due to an ejection, but that's bound to happen to someone who plays with a mean streak.
In both seasons, Kreutz was picked as an alternate to the NFC squad in the Pro Bowl, so he was able to come home to Hawaii in style.
"Last year, it was a shock to not play too much of the season," Kreutz said. "And not having winning seasons has put a (little) damper on my time (in the NFL) so far.
"But it's the best job in the world, and I'm thankful for it every single day."
The highlight of Kreutz's college career was coming back to Hawaii to play in the 1997 Aloha Bowl for the Huskies in a 51-23 victory over Michigan State.
"It seems so long ago now, but getting to come back and play in front of my family and friends was really special," he said.
Kreutz is responsible for making all of the protection calls on the Bears' line, telling the others where to be in the various situations.
And he has developed a closeness with all of his linemates, because he believes offensive linemen need to be close to succeed.
He has also forged a deep bond with Tony Parrish, a safety, who's been with Kreutz for four years at Chicago and for two years at Washington before that.
Kreutz's best friend just happens to be Dominic Raiola of the NFC Central Division rival Detroit Lions. Raiola, another center, was two years behind Kreutz at St. Louis School before starring at Nebraska.
"We grew up right down the road from each other in Aina Haina," Kreutz said. "And now we're in the NFL together, how many people can say that?
"We play them twice, so we'll have a chance to hang out a little."
According to line coach Wiley, Kreutz and his offensive line buddies are always doing funny things.
"Olin has this ball of tape that he keeps adding on to, and he drew a face on it and named it Houdini," Wiley said. "It's like the volleyball in 'Castaway.' They (the linemen) do all kinds of stuff like that, to keep it light."
Wiley, who has coached in college and the pros since 1980, has seen only one lineman prepare and train harder for games than Olin, and that's Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz.
"We had Anthony in here for training camp, and hopefully, some of what he taught has rubbed off on Olin and the rest of the line," Wiley said.
As tough as Kreutz is, he didn't expect the NFL to be as harsh as it has been on his frame.
"Coming in, I didn't really have any idea of just how much your body gets beat down," he said. "I'm 24 years old and I have two bad knees and a bad shoulder. That's part of the reason why we get paid so much.
"I can honestly say I wouldn't be playing for free right now. It's not just going to the park and nailing each other. It's not pickup basketball. It's not softball."
It's the NFL, and Hawaii's Olin Kreutz is playing for the Monsters of the Midway right in the ... center ... of it all.