He played six NFL seasons and won a Super Bowl with the Colts, but Utecht is making an even bigger impact in his second career as leading advocate for players suffering from head trauma
They figured it might be cute to leave Ben Utecht hanging out to dry, just for old times sake. Only this was a nippy December in Minnesota, as Utecht was on stage, channeling Andy Williams. If Andy Williams happened to be 6ft 6in and ran a 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds.
Im kind of a balladeer at heart, anyway, says Utecht, the former NFL tight end. If you ever wouldve told me Id be singing Andy Williams, Id have laughed.
So theres a bit in An Andy & Bing Christmas, a vocal revue that Utecht, the pro football veteran with the granite shoulders and the velvet pipes, and Mick Sterling, a Twin Cities entertainer who serves as the Crosby half of the show, have performed around the state every December since 2015. In the bit, Utecht cracks wise about his six seasons in the NFL; the hits that kept on coming; the silver bells that never stopped ringing; the five concussions; and the Super Bowl he won as a member of the Indianapolis Colts in February 2007.
And the band would play the NFL theme song, Sterling explains. And he was just being very silly. Its a very funny bit, and Ben thought of it.
Only one night, the 16-member backing band decided it was the perfect time to pull a prank on their towering front man. While Utecht was in mid-pose, waiting for a music cue, the band decided, puckishly, to call an audible. And stopped playing altogether.
As the silence lingered for several beats too long, as Utecht stood, awkwardly, Sterlings face reddened with embarrassment, then rage.
Backstage, in between sets, he let loose.
That was too much, Sterling told the band. Hes the star of our show. You cant put him in that position. OK, theres fun, but you cant have that much.
Hes the star of the show. Dont make him look like anything but the star of the show.
A 10-minute issue, Sterling says now. He laughs. But it got us closer in some ways. Everybody felt a little bad. It was a silly joke that went a little bit too far. We talked it over. It was great. Ben was great.
No time for grudges, let alone regrets. Utecht has two sold-out performances in September to prepare for, songs to write for a new vocal trio in Nashville, and speeches to make on behalf of Keystone Culture Group, a consulting firm he formed last year with Dr Daniel K Zismer.
I was part of such a special team, this team in 2006 under Tony Dungy and guys like Peyton [Manning], Utecht says. But Ive got a huge passion for how to build a high-performing culture. That culture is going to be a part of your group whether you want it to be or not. Why not design it?
And I use that championship [approach] to really go into companies and give them a blueprint of how to do that and that results in direct performance. So its been a joy to be able to do that.
So much joy, in fact, that Utecht is a little embarrassed about the book that brought him back into the national spotlight some two years earlier. If he could take back any words from Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away, the autobiography published in August 2016 that detailed Utechts history of head trauma, thats easy hed start with the title.
To be honest with you, I almost feel like I would go back and definitely change that, Utecht says. I wrote [that] when I was going through kind of the most difficult time, right after my retirement transition. And so I was very vulnerable, afraid.
But it [doesnt] represent how Im doing today. I think that, if anything, there were people that probably didnt want to read that book because of what they thought I would be sharing, based on such an ominous title like that.
Instead of counting the days, 2018 has been about counting blessings. A narrative built on making memories rather than mourning the ones lost to the ether.
Im doing better cognitively, I think, than Ive ever been in my life, says the 37-year-old Minnesota native, whod spent four seasons with the Colts (2004-07) and another two with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-09).
I found myself in a really good place.
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