(MCT) — CHICAGO — Lance Louis cried.
Not on the field in front of his teammates. Not on the sideline while the medical staff tugged at his left leg.
Instead, the Bears’ right guard reserved his weeping for the ride home from Soldier Field the night of Nov. 25. Tears trickled down his cheek as his slumped inside teammate Patrick Trahan’s Ford pickup, and Trahan remained mum as his roommate struggled through the moment.
“I don’t think there was anything to be said at that point,” Louis recalled.
What happened hours before spoke volumes about Louis’ emotional state. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen delivered a brutal blindside block to Louis after a Jay Cutler interception. The impact sent the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Louis tumbling to the ground.
“When the doctors came up, they thought I had a concussion,” Louis said. “But I heard a pop. By the time I got over to the sideline, I knew I tore it.”
Louis ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — the same injury he endured in his right knee during college. Allen’s hit not only kept Louis from finishing a contract season, it caused an already much-maligned offensive line to regress.
Regardless, Louis says he holds no grudge against Allen.
“I never faulted him,” Louis said Friday in his first public comments since the injury. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any bad intentions toward me.
“I’m hard on myself. I should have looked. I felt like I should have taken a peek or something. But ... I know what I signed up for. There’s always that possibility of getting hurt in this game.”
Allen apologized through the media for what Bears teammates termed an “unnecessary” play. In their minds, the $21,000 fine assessed against Allen wasn’t severe enough.
“If he did get fined or didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered to me,” Louis said. “It happened. It’s football. It’s unfortunate, but I’m cool. I have no doubt I’ll be back playing at a high level.”
Besides, Louis has overcome much worse.
While growing up in a desolate area of New Orleans, Louis never imagined escaping the depressing environment and having a successful pro football career.
“There were no good sides of town in New Orleans,” he said. “None.”
One incident struck fear in Louis more than any other. It was during his senior year of high school, when he attended a dance with some friends off the East Bank. Afterward, Louis and a couple of friends were robbed at gunpoint. The gunman aimed at Louis and demanded the throwback jersey he was wearing.
“There wasn’t too much to say,” Louis remembered. “I just pulled it off my back. What else was I going to do but give it to him?”
Surviving a life-threatening situation makes the recovery from a devastating knee injury seem trivial. Saturday marked the fourth week since surgeon Mark Bowen repaired Louis’ ACL. Louis started light rehab exercises a few days after surgery.
“I really never experienced any pain after surgery,” Louis said. “It’s strong. It’s getting better every day. Everything is going cool.”
Louis faces six-to-eight months of recovery and could start light jogging in eight more weeks. At this stage, his days consist of three hours of rehab at Halas Hall with electrical stimulation to strengthen the quad. He wears a cumbersome black brace for protection.
Louis never has regained his full range of motion in his right knee, but he anticipates better results with the left.
“I should be fine by training camp,” he said. “I want to come into a camp and it be like I never left.”
Watching Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have an MVP-caliber season eight months after ACL surgery inspires Louis.
“He’s so much of an inspiration to me,” Louis said of Peterson. “I’m looking forward to seeing where I’m going to be at. He motivates me to work even harder and not take anything for granted because it’s possible.”
Before Louis was lost with five games remaining in the season, there was talk of him being in line for a new contract. His four-year rookie deal is set to expire March 12, when he officially becomes one of the Bears’ 18 unrestricted free agents.
Having a season-ending injury came at the most inopportune time and no doubt complicates contract talks.
“It was in my mind for like the first day or two,” Louis said. “That’s not on my mind right now. My mind is on trying to get back on the field.”
Louis handled his business when on it. He started 11 games and was arguably the team’s best offensive lineman this season. Bears radio analyst Tom Thayer, a starting right guard on the 1985 Super Bowl champs, believed Louis played at a Pro Bowl level before the injury.
“First of all, he took what he learned as a tackle and was able to be a better offensive guard, a more helpful guard to the tackle,” Thayer said. “But he also had the athleticism to move in space.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice often praised his play during the season.
“Everything in my game is from Coach Tice,” Louis said. “Coach built me to the player that I am today, although I still have a long way to go.”
As the Bears prepare for a largely new coaching staff after the dismissal of Lovie Smith — and the line likely braces for life without Tice — Louis hopes he remains an integral part of the team’s plans though general manager Phil Emery has made it clear overall line play has to get better.
“I want to be a Bear for life,” he said. “That’s a no-brainer. I love Chicago. I love everything about it. The Bears’ organization is a great place to be. And I want to be here a lot longer.”
And he may be, as he’s a far cry from the unpolished, former tight end he was as rookie seventh-round draft pick.