— ADVERTISEMENT —
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Flying under the radar
Hawaii’s Olin Kreutz doesn’t
"He's definitely one of the guys I love to watch," said Minnesota's Matt Birk, the NFC's backup center. "I love the way he plays; he's one of the best in the game and I always feel I can learn things by watching him.
"I'd never met him before, so this was actually a thrill for me that we were here at the same time and just get to talk to him and hang out a little more."
An alternate twice early in his career, Kreutz started the 2002 and 2003 Pro Bowls. He was picked to start again last year, but withdrew due to a sprained ankle. It was one of the few times Kreutz has missed a kickoff in his career, as he's started 62 of the Bears' last 63 regular-season games.
Kreutz's selection to this year's game caps an otherwise trying season in Chicago, as the Bears went 5-11 and finished last in the league in total offense with 238.5 yards per game.
"Football is a team sport and we all had a bad year," said Kreutz, the Bears' lone representative. "I appreciate the respect my peers and the coaches have for me, but I'm not going to say 'I had a good year while everybody else had a bad year.' I'm not going to separate myself from the team like that."
Despite the Bears' struggles, Kreutz finds himself back in the game at a position that lends itself to anonymity. But those who line up against him are well aware of the 6-foot-2 292-pounder's skills and can testify to what makes him one of the game's top blockers.
"His quickness and tenacity," Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers listed. "He's going to play every snap, he knows what he's doing and he knows where he's supposed to be. But most definitely his quickness allows him do things on the field that other linemen can't do."
"A lot of mean streak," Dallas' La'Roi Glover added. "He's not the biggest guy, but he makes up for it with heart and effort and intensity. It's a beautiful combination."
Cal Lee, who coached Kreutz as a Crusader, said you can never predict a high school player making it to the NFL, much less the Pro Bowl. But he knew Kreutz had some of the right attributes.
"You can tell that a guy's a hard worker. He had that great passion for the game, a competitor no matter what it is," Lee said. "You've got to be nasty sometimes, and he had that. It's not pingpong. You could also see he had the intelligence."
A recruiting battle ended with Kreutz accepting a scholarship to Washington, where he was a two-time All-Pac-10 pick with the Huskies.
Adjusting to life in Seattle was a sometimes agonizing experience, and he can relate to the local athletes who just completed the recruiting process earlier this month.
"It's a tough decision for kids to make," he said. "You're only 17 years old, but you're making a decision that impacts your whole life, and at that point you don't realize that.
"It's a different lifestyle -- the people are different, they're a little more fast-paced. It's a hard thing to get used to at first. I know I wanted to quit and come home, but my family stood behind me and told me to stay, especially my mom, so I stayed."
He closed his college career at Aloha Stadium by playing in Washington's 51-23 win over Michigan State in the 1997 Aloha Bowl. He entered the NFL Draft following his junior season and the Bears made him their third-round pick in 1998. He's signed with the team through the 2007 season.
"In the NFL you're never set. ... but I'm pretty comfortable with my situation," he said. "But they can get rid of me at any time. I know that and everybody knows that who plays this sport. You're never set and every year is a new year."
THOUGH HE APPRECIATES the honor of another Pro Bowl selection, Kreutz's true joy these days is a blossoming family.
His wife, Wendi, is a Sacred Hearts graduate. They were high-school sweethearts and now have two sons -- Joshua turns 2 next month and James is 6 months old.
The family lives in Chicago most of the year, but calls Kalama Valley home from January to April.
While most of the Pro Bowl players tour the island or lounge in the luxurious accommodations at the Ihilani resort on Oahu's west side, Kreutz is content to kick back at home, maybe hit the links a few times.
Although he makes his living in the Midwest, Hawaii remains home.
"The local people always treat me good," Kreutz said. "This is where I'm from, this is where my family's from and this is where I like to be."
Hawaii's Pro Bowlers
Name (Hawaii connection) Pos. NFL Team Selections Years Charley Ane (Punahou) T Detroit 2 1957, 59 Jason Elam (UH) K Denver 3 1996, 99, 2002 Russ Francis (Kailua) TE New England 3 1977, 78, 79* Rockne Freitas (Kamehameha) T Detroit 1 1973* Roy Gerela (Kalani) K Pittsburgh 2 1973, 75 Olin Kreutz (Saint Louis) C Chicago 4 2002, 03, 04*, 05 Jesse Sapolu (Farrington/UH) C San Francisco 2 1994, 95 Mosi Tatupu (Punahou) ST New England 1 1987 Mark Tuinei (Punahou/UH) T Dallas 2 1995, 96
*selected but did not play