There are a lot of numbers associated with Ben Utecht that we know – or that we can at least look up. His height (6-6). His playing weight (251 pounds). The fact that he played five NFL seasons – four with the Colts, one with the Bengals – and caught 87 passes for 923 yards and three touchdowns.
Those, we know.
But there’s a pretty important one that we don’t know: the number of concussions he suffered playing football.
“That’s an interesting question,” Utecht said on The Morning Show. “As we’ve learned so much more about concussions, I think back on that career, and even though I retired at 29, I started tackle football in third or fourth grade. That’s 20 years. That’s one thing people don’t realize about pro football payers. You got to go back to when contact actually began. I think of all the hits where the vision went blurry or the headaches came afterwards. I had five documented (concussions), but going back and thinking about that, there’s definitely more. And unfortunately, there were some that I didn’t (report) in the (NFL) because I wanted to play.”
Utecht retired in 2009. Four years later, at the age of 33, he’s suffering from memory loss.
Which is why he wanted to send a message to his wife, Karyn, and three daughters before it was too late. So he did – in the form of a song.
“The transition out of the NFL is difficult for a lot of guys because their whole life is wrapped up in this sport and it’s all they know and it’s all they have,” Utecht said. “And music has always been a release for me, an ability to present myself in a different way. I’ve been working on music since retiring. But there was something missing.”
Utecht got a call from his producer, Rick Barron, who asked Utecht if he had ever written a letter to his wife from the perspective of an aging NFL retiree who doesn’t remember his name anymore.
“It just hit me to the core,” Utecht said. “I hadn’t really gone through that therapeutic process.”
Utecht, who received the phone call right before boarding a plane, immediately started writing. Somewhere above 10,000 feet, Utecht lost it, pulling his hat over his face to conceal his tears.
“These are real fears,” he said. “At 33, I’m not facing some of the symptoms – or the level of symptoms – that some of the players are in their early 50s. But the fears of that happening are real. And that’s what the letter was about.”
Out of the letter came a song – “You Will Always Be My Girls” – written by Utecht, Barron, Tommy Barbarella and Dave Barry.
“It has really become an anthem – not only for me, but so many that are affected by brain disease, which is 1 in 6,” Utecht said. “People don’t realize that. One in six are affected by brain disease. It’s really been a song of hope for people. That’s why it was written.”
Utecht also filmed a music video for the song, which his wife appears in.
“When you watch the video and see Karyn’s reactions, those are one-takes,” Utecht said. “We all sat there behind the camera really in awe. This is really her first time doing anything on screen, and she just went there. It wasn’t easy. She’s sitting down, looking at all those pictures and just putting herself in that position. Those were the real emotions. That was not an actor on camera portraying something. That was her thinking about those fears. That is what made this so real and sincere because that was true. It’s made it really special.”
Utecht added that he would like to become the first Super Bowl champion to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl – ideally in 2018, when the game will be played in Minnesota, his home state. You can show your support for Utecht by tweeting “#UtechtAnthem.”