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Bret Bielema's ACL-less Cup of Coffee in the NFL

Bret Bielema didn't know how badly he wanted to play for the Seattle Seahawks until he actually got a chance.

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It’s that time of year again.

You know, when actual college football news takes a nap and in its social media stead rises a steady stream of Gatorade shout-outs, keeping campers hydrated(!) and adorable snapshots of Yorkshire terriers wrestling poolside.

Outside of recruiting updates, we have a bit of of a vacuum on our hands here in the dog days of college football. Historically, it has been mostly filled with talk of predictions and national championship odds -- the Hogs are at 100-1 according to William Hill -- but now, thanks to the constant info froth via the SEC Network, we are in new age of expanded storytelling from the players and coaches themselves.

Such was the case when Bielema recently held court with TV analysts Clint Stoerner and Dari Nokwah in the middle of a semi-deserted cafeteria, relaying the tale of his brief NFL career between bites of omelette and salad.

The meal, which originally aired on the SEC Network’s campus summer tour series, began innocently enough. The threesome were just digging into their food in the University of Arkansas’ new Jerry & Gene Jones Family Student-Athlete Center when talk quickly pivoted to Bielema’s weight.

The head Hog noted the nutritional goal for some of his player’s today is simply to maintain their weight, but that was certainly not the case for him when he entered the University of Iowa as an aspiring lineman at 192 pounds. Fueled almost entirely by massive amounts of Ramen noodle, Bielema said he got up to 225 pounds by the end of his freshman year.

Unfortunately, on the cusp of breaking out as a sophomore, he tore one of his ACLs. "The doctor says, ‘Hey, you've got two choices. You can have a surgery, and you’re out probably 9-12 months, or we can train your hamstring to take the place of your ACL.’  They did this back 20 years ago."

The medical staff promised him the latter route would allow him to play just as fast as he wanted, but added: "‘The only problem is, the NFL won't pass you through a physical.’ I started laughing. I said, ‘I'm trying to play here at the University of Iowa, I'm not trying to play in the NFL.’"

With hamstring training, Bielema put on pads only seven days afterward. "I played great, earned a scholarship, did everything that I could in my college career," he recalled. He even bulked up to 275 pounds as a senior.

Then, much to his surprise NFL personnel showed interest in him. "Now I'm trying to fly out there [Seattle] and figure out how can I hide I don't have an ACL ligament, because they don't know, no one knows... You would fire your hamstring, and I got through it. I'm laying there in bed, the night before, I'm rooming with an Auburn O-lineman, I don't even know what his name was, and we're talking about getting your chance to play in the NFL."

"Next day, I'm walking out to the practice field, I've got my helmet, I'm all taped up, and the guy says, ‘Hey, ‘Bu-limia.’ Oh my god, they don't know your name. It's not good. He's like, ‘We need to do some more tests on your knees.’ They brought me in, and they MRI'ed me, and they saw I didn't have it."

After only three days, they were going to send Bielema home. "Crying my eyes out," he went to then head coach Seattle head coach Tom Flores. "I was like, " I'll do anything, I'll sign a waiver….’ They were like, ‘No, no, no.’  I was trying to beg my way in: ‘Let me just try to play. I just wanted to play, just one snap.’  I think a lot of that had to do with why I got into what I'm in now."

As Nokwah finished off some especially hot jalapenos, Bielema mentioned another interesting little kicker: "Funny part was, Ted Velicer was an offensive lineman who was from Iowa I played with -- He had done the same thing and they never caught his. He played through that season."

This was the closest Bielema ever got to playing to playing the big leagues.

In the early 1992, things did not work out well for him with the Seattle franchise, but he held no lasting grudge. Twenty years later, while at Wisconsin, he helped pave the way for the Seahawks to draft his star quarterback Russell Wilson.


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