L ance Briggs chases quarterbacks for hobby and pay.
It’s a painful way to make a living, absorbing blows to the ribs from 300-plus-pound men blocking his path, and Briggs has the bruises as proof over 12 seasons as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
But such NFL pursuits pale in comparison to what Briggs’ mother endured in cramped, dark quarters. For 15 years, Brenda Briggs wiggled through 30-inch quarters beneath Sacramento streets, engaging in unpleasant tasks in unsightly places. She repaired sewer mains for the city, where rodents and roaches where constant companions. She could tolerate the stench, but lurking rats as long as her forearm? It still sends shivers down her back.
“No fun,” Brenda said with a laugh as Briggs opened his restaurant Double Nickel Smokehouse in Elk Grove. “That was something else. But it was hard, honest work, and it allowed me time with my kids.”
Raising three children as a single mother – Lance Briggs was a student-athlete at Elk Grove High School in the late 1990s – Brenda was never one to shy away from a dirty job. She also worked a jackhammer in sheets of rain.
“I never wanted my son to have to work like that,” Brenda said.
Brenda Briggs knew her only son needed sports as he grew up with his father largely absent. So close is the bond between mother and son that they are often inseparable. Briggs flies her from Sacramento to Chicago for every training camp – 12 now and counting. She attends Bears home games, and she’ll be at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night when the Bears visit the 49ers. They vacation together in the tropics, including Jamaica this past summer.
The warm, moist air soothes Brenda. Years of working in those mains took a toll. Her knees, back and hips ache terribly. She navigates steps carefully, and she needs a moment to get out of a seat.
“Most amazing woman I’ll ever know,” Briggs said. “Mom means the world to me, and I owe the world to her. Incredibly special person. I get my strength from her. Hey, you’re never too old to admit that you’re a mama’s boy. I know I am.”
Briggs isn’t sure how many more trips to Chicago are in store for Brenda. He is in the final year of his contract. Briggs said he’d like to be a Bear for life, but business is business, and the NFL is all about the business of roster change.
“It’s crazy to think how long I’ve played this game at this level,” Briggs said. “I hear, ‘You move pretty fast for an old guy. You might still have it!’ I still have enough.”
Briggs offered a lot of promise at Elk Grove, where he would amuse his classmates with imitations and comedy skits. But he had to shore up his grades his senior season in order to secure a scholarship. He took makeup courses with freshmen, a sting to his pride but a sample of his will.
Elk Grove co-coaches Ed Lombardi and Dave Hoskins worked with Briggs and counselors to monitor progress. Wayne Dinwiddie, another coach, became a father figure.
“I made up those classes because I had to, because it was my ticket, and those coaches saved me,” Briggs said. “Hoskins, Lombardi, Dinwiddie, they set me on the path to what and who I became. I was very lucky to have them in my life.”
As a prep in 1998, Briggs had few peers. A 6-foot-2, 225-pound fullback and linebacker, Briggs rushed for 1,541 yards for a 14-0 team. He punished defenders by lowering his shoulder and churning his powerful legs. Lombardi called Briggs “the ultimate player.” Hoskins, who coached scores of prep players who reached the NFL, said Briggs “is as great as they come.”
“He hit a kid once so hard, it was like a cannon ball into the belly,” Hoskins said. “I felt for some of those kids. It didn’t seem fair, inhumane.”
Chris Nixon, the Thundering Herd offensive coordinator in 1998 and current head coach, recalled a particular play that still resonates.
“He delivered the hardest hit I’ve ever witnessed in a game,” Nixon said. “He hit a guy so hard that the ambulance was waved over before the kid hit the ground. Simply awesome.”
Briggs remains close to his former youth and prep teammates, including Cameron Lee, his business partner at Double Nickel.
When an arson fire destroyed two Elk Grove High football storage sheds last year, Briggs offered to cover all costs. Briggs has also donated jerseys, shoulder pads and helmets to the Herd program. Players call their shining helmets “Briggs Gold.”
“We are hands down the luckiest football program and school in the country to have Lance as an alumni and benefactor,” Nixon said. “He just gets it. The guy gives and gives.”
Brenda Briggs will vouch for that. Briggs has showered his mother with gifts, a house and a car. What she especially appreciates is his time. Mother and son are already discussing new vacation getaways.
“My son,” Brenda said, wiping away a tear, “made all my dreams come true. He’s made me very, very happy.”