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Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

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Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

Don Beebe and John Holecek played high school, college and professional football for more than 15 years. They still have their wits about them, but they vividly acknowledge how the violence of the game has tragically affected the lives of former teammates, mentally and physically.

Beebe, a wide receiver who played in six Super Bowls during a nine-year NFL career, recalls playing for the Green Bay Packers in a game in 1996 in which he sustained a dinger in the head in the first quarter, was knocked out cold in the second quarter and taken to the locker room, then returned in the third quarter and caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre.

"If that had happened today, the Packers would have been fined by the league," Beebe said. "I suffered six major concussions. I was knocked out cold and dinged many times, severe swelling to the head, dizziness, blurred vision, waking up and not knowing where you are. But guys I know and talk to regularly are doing fine. I don't know anyone who isn't doing well.

"But I don't want to make light of what has happened, the lawsuits against the NFL, the documented cases of dementia, the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau. We need to teach kids at a young age the better techniques of tackling and not to use their heads as weapons."

Holecek, a linebacker who played in the NFL for eight years, cites a former teammate with the New England Patriots, Ted Johnson, a linebacker who played 10 years in the NFL and retired after the 2005 season after sustaining many concussions.

In 2007, it was reported that Johnson suffers from amphetamine addiction, depression and headaches related to post-concussion syndrome. He placed some blame on Bill Belichick, his former coach, for pressuring him to participate in full contact practice drills three days after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game in 2002. He shows early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

"(Johnson) was the type of guy who led with his head and destroyed blocks with his head. He used his head as a weapon," Holecek said. "He isn't doing well. I never saw anyone play more physical and use his head as a weapon. He used to break face masks. Others hated to pay against him. I'm not surprised that he has had head injury problems."

So how have those daunting experiences and memories affected their lives as head football coaches at the high school level?

Beebe, who guided Aurora Christian to the Class 3A championship last year, is preparing for his ninth season as head coach. His son Chad, a wide receiver, has scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Illinois State. He is 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds, a tad smaller than his father was when he graduated from Kaneland High School. He was sidelined for much of last season with a broken collarbone.

"If it ever got to the point where Chad was scared to play or scared of getting a concussion, I wouldn't let him play. He has no fear at all. You can't play scared. But you can play smart, especially as a wide receiver or running back," Beebe said.

"I have changed as a coach. I know what a concussion looks like. I won't let a kid practice (if he has concussion symptoms) until he is cleared by a doctor. If I see a kid in practice or a game tackling with his head and not his shoulder pads, I correct him right away, just as if his footwork was wrong on a block. You have to teach proper technique in tackling."

Beebe is very careful about being too physical in practice. His players never tackle to the ground in practice. In fact, they don't engage in much contact at all prior to games. "You don't have to have contact every day in practice. You can do what you need to accomplish by talking to a kid. You don't have to prove it every day in practice," he said.

Holecek, who coached Loyola to second place in the Class 8A playoff last year, is looking ahead to his seventh season at the Wilmette school. He acknowledges that parents are more concerned about the safety of the game. As a parent and coach, so is he.

"I came from the old-school mentality. In my day, if you got knocked out, you came to and went back into the game. Today, if you have concussion symptoms, you won't play," he said. "The game is a lot safer now. There is more knowledge available. Parents must evaluate the coaches and programs, if the equipment is safe. My son, a second-grader, wants to play football and I don't have a problem with him playing."

Holecek has changed his approach to the game. Last year, his team tackled in practice only twice. No more Oklahoma drills, no unnecessary contact, no live tackling during the summer or during the season. He still recalls, in his first season, how future Penn State running back Joe Suhey, son of former Chicago Bear Matt Suhey, was injured in a drill that Holecek later admitted didn't need to be run.

"I changed a few years ago because we didn't want to lose our best players in practice," Holecek said. "I think the information on concussions has changed everybody. It is a completely different game than 10 years ago. I don't want kids to get hurt on the practice field. We want to limit chance of injury to games only. Sure, you can't avoid everything. But I think proper teaching and technique is key. You can avoid head injuries with proper technique."

That said, Beebe and Holecek want to remind parents, media and others who rush to judgment and claim that the game is too violent and the high school version can't be compared to college and the NFL, where the participants are bigger, stronger, faster and more violent.

"Parents don't hesitate to hand their car keys to a 16-year-old. What is the percentage who get into car accidents? But of all the boys who play high school football, what is the percentage who get concussions? What is the percentage of kids becoming dysfunctional from a concussion? And how many are dysfunctional in life? Remember, very few of those kids go on to play in college and the NFL," Beebe said.

"We blow it out of proportion. Personally, I think we sensationalize the big hits and they become more publicized in the NFL and it trickles down to the high schools."

Holecek said "there is no doubt that back in the day the NFL wasn't upfront with information about head injuries, that the league didn't disclose the risk and the long-term effects of concussions and head trauma. Now it is an issue that the league must take very seriously."

As former players, however, Beebe and Holecek wonder if there isn't more to it than the physical aspect. After all, they argue, what happened to the football players who wore leather helmets? Remember Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski and Tommy Harmon? Did they suffer concussions? Did they suffer head trauma that developed into dementia? Did they consider suicide?

"Think about it," Beebe said. "You're a kid in your 20s. You are a super star, at the top of the world. You feel emotions that a normal person can never feel. Everybody wants a piece of you. Then it is taken away from you at a young age, in your early 30s. What do you do? What do you turn to?

"It has been reported that 90 percent of all NFL players who earned 15 million in their careers are bankrupt. That will cause depression. To me, that's the biggest culprit. You are the center of attention for so many years. Then it's all gone and you can't handle it emotionally. You don't know what to do with your life anymore."

White Sox 2005 Rewind: 'The only a------ that wasn't tight was El Duque's'

White Sox 2005 Rewind: 'The only a------ that wasn't tight was El Duque's'

Bases loaded. Nobody out. And the White Sox held the slimmest of leads, 4-3, in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS.

And who did Ozzie Guillen turn to?

Cliff Politte, an ace reliever who posted a 2.00 ERA during the regular season? Or Neal Cotts, who was even more effective, with a 1.94 ERA? Or even Dustin Hermanson, who closed out so many nail-biters before being replaced with fireballing rookie Bobby Jenks, and his 2.04 ERA?

No, Guillen went with the former fifth starter who was jettisoned from the rotation weeks earlier, a guy who had a 5.12 ERA during the regular season.

Enter: El Duque.

Orlando Hernandez didn’t put up the kind of regular-season numbers that would typically warrant his manager’s utmost confidence in the season’s most critical moment. But he had been in this position before.

During an illustrious tenure with the Yankees, Hernandez pitched in six postseasons in seven years, winning three World Series rings, logging more than 100 playoff innings and bringing a 2.65 ERA playoff ERA into this least enviable of situations that night at Fenway Park.

Guillen opted for playoff experience over regular-season results. And boy, did it work.

“There’s 45,000 people in the stands with tight a-------,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told Our Chuck Garfien years later in an NBC Sports Chicago interview. “Every fan’s got the tight a------. Every coach, every player’s got the tight a------.

“The only a------ that wasn’t tight was El Duque’s.”

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: With a little help from old friend Tony Graffanino

Hernandez did the impossible, and he did it in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. With Fenway in a frenzy, he got Jason Varitek to pop out, coaxed the same result from Tony Graffanino to close out a 10-pitch at-bat and struck out Johnny Damon on a check swing to finish a seven-pitch at-bat, the latter two both going to full counts.

It was an escape act of epic proportions, one that carved El Duque into White Sox history and chiseled him into the statue that stands outside Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Tremendous inning under the highest amount of pressure that you can have as a baseball player,” Cooper said. “What’s worse? Bases loaded, nobody out in a playoff game. The stadium’s packed, and the whole world is watching the game. And he came through.

“The most important inning in White Sox history? Is it fair to say? I think so.”

Considering what followed, that might strike some as a tad hyperbolic. After all, if the White Sox coughed up that narrow lead in the sixth inning of Game 3, they still had three more innings to stage a comeback attempt. Even if they lost Game 3, they had two more games to win the series. And there were two more rounds of playoffs standing between a series win in Boston and ending an 88-year championship drought.

But Cooper’s right.

This entire postseason run was full of unforgettable moments. Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead three-run homer two days before El Duque’s heroics. In the next round, A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed and ran to first base to turn the ALCS on its head. In the World Series, Paul Konerko, Scott Podsednik and Geoff Blum hit home runs permanently etched into the collective memory of the South Side.

But those were single swings of the bat. Hernandez had to grit through three at-bats when any slip up would have meant a tie game or worse. With nobody out, an early mistake could have snowballed into a huge inning for the Red Sox.

Not only did Hernandez escape the sixth inning. He pitched the seventh and eight, too. All in all, he retired nine of 10 batters, striking out four of them over those three innings. All with only a one-run lead. It doesn’t get any more clutch than that.

“He’s probably got the most heart of any pitcher I’ve ever been around,” Konerko told ESPN’s Erin Andrews after the game.

And why was he the guy to do it? Because he’d been there before.

He just wanted to make sure he didn’t have to be there again.

“(After the game), Duque comes over to me and says, ‘Cooper, one thing I’ll tell you. It’s OK next time if you bring me in with one guy on base. It’s even OK if you bring me in with two guys on base. But no more with three!’”

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 1 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NBC Sports Chicago.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

MLB The Show: White Sox celebrate Memorial Day with 6-4 win over Orioles

MLB The Show: White Sox celebrate Memorial Day with 6-4 win over Orioles

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Orioles, 6-4

Record: 25-29, 3rd in A.L. Central (5.0 GB of Twins)

W: Reynaldo Lopez (5-2)
L: Asher Wojciechowski (1-6)
SV: Alex Colome (8)

Game summary: Monday’s Memorial Day matchup between the White Sox and Orioles was one of two teams going in opposite directions. The White Sox are red hot with a six-game winning streak, while the O’s were riding a nine-game losing skid.

The White Sox set off the fireworks early with a leadoff home run from Edwin Encarnacion, his 16th of the season. Two batters later, Yoan Moncada homered for the 10th time this season, becoming the sixth White Sox hitter with double-digit long balls on the season. 

Encarnacion continued his run production in the fourth, driving in Luis Robert with a RBI single to left field to give the Sox a 3-1 lead. The offense didn’t skip a frame, scoring two in the fifth behind a Jose Abreu sacrifice fly and a Tim Anderson RBI single to give the Sox a four-run advantage.

The following inning, Eloy Jimenez joined the power production with his 20th homer of the season, tied for league lead with Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 2-5, HR, 2 RBI (.314 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-5, HR, RBI (.268 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-5, HR, RBI (.261 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 2-5, 2B (.252 BA)
Jose Abreu: 1-4, RBI (.308 BA)
Tim Anderson: 2-4, RBI, 2B (.300 BA)
Luis Robert: 0-3, BB (.237 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, 2 2B (.299 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-4 (.244 BA)

Scoring summary:

Top first:

Edwin Encarnacion homered to center field. 1-0 CHW.
Yoan Moncada homered to right field. 2-0 CHW.

Bottom second:

Renato Nunez homered to left field. 2-1 CHW.

Top fourth:

Encarnacion singled to left field, Luis Robert scored. 3-1 CHW.

Top fifth:

Jose Abreu sacrifice fly to center field, Moncada scored. 4-1 CHW.
Tim Anderson singled to center field, Nick Madrigal scored. 5-1 CHW.

Top sixth:

Eloy Jimenez homered to left field. 6-1 CHW.

Bottom seventh:

Austin Hays doubled to right field, Trey Mancini scored. 6-2 CHW.

Bottom ninth:

Ramon Urias doubled to right field, D.J. Stewart and Hays scored. 6-4 CHW.

Notable performance: Reynaldo Lopez continues to pitch well, leading the White Sox with five wins on the season. He went 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven Baltimore batters and only allowing two earned runs. 

Next game: Tuesday, May 26 - Game 55: White Sox at Orioles (Michael Kopech, 0-0, 2.13 ERA vs Keegan Akin, 2-3, 4.44 ERA)

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