January 14, 2020
Gary Fencik and Doug Plank played with abandon as hard-hitting Bears safeties in the 1970s and ’80s.
They didn’t think much about their long-term health in those days, but they reflected on their violent careers and discussed concussions, CTE and post-football life in a video posted Tuesday by The Players’ Tribune.
“I remember one time in Green Bay, I got hit by a pulling guard,” Plank said. “I thought I was electrocuted. … I couldn’t turn my body. That is when I thought, ‘This is the beginning of the end.’ … Your body is screaming and saying: ‘Get me off the field. I can’t take this anymore.’ ”
Fencik could relate: “When you find out … it’s like an on-off switch. I think I’m switched off and I can’t go back on.”
Fencik, 65, played 12 seasons for the Bears from 1976 to ’87. The two-time Pro Bowler was No. 39 in the Tribune’s ranking of the 100 best Bears players ever.
Plank, 66, played from 1975 to ’82, his career cut short by injury. Buddy Ryan named the famed 46 defense after Plank’s jersey number, and Plank was No. 82 on the best Bears list.
Plank acknowledged he suffered multiple concussions playing football, starting in junior high. He said to deal with concussions while with the Bears, he would take “a ton of aspirins” before games and put smelling salts in his socks and pants.
Referring to their style of play and history of concussions, Fencik said: “Let’s put it this way, Doug, if either one of us gets CTE, nobody’s going to go: ‘Really? Really? What a shock.’
In 2015, Fencik agreed to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. He made that decision after learning of the health problems of former teammates, including Dave Duerson, who committed suicide at 50 and was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease.
“I’m happy to hopefully be a positive for someone who did play for 12 years,” Fencik said, “and really hope that will lead to better research and hopefully some solutions.”
Plank said knowing what he knows now, he wouldn’t let children under 11 play tackle football.
“The NFL could be such a great leader on this issue,” Fencik said, “and instead it’s the head in the sand.”