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Lance Briggs kicks off season with BBQ

Thank you, Lance.

We needed a story to get the juices flowing. We needed a starting point to kick off another Bears season that will, no doubt, keep us entertained through the next four or five months.

And you, Lance Briggs, veteran linebacker and barbecue fan, gave Chicago the go-ahead to start our polemicizing.

As diversions go, I give “Lance Briggs’ Day Off” four stars.

This dark comedy about a man driven west to help christen a barbecue joint adjacent to a bowling alley had a little bit of everything to keep me entertained when it debuted Monday afternoon and caught fire Tuesday.

An excused absence from a Monday practice? Check.

A vanity restaurant with a sports theme? Check.

A drummed-up controversy because there’s nothing to talk about yet? Check.

I don’t just like this story; I love it. I don’t think Briggs' missing a practice will harm his play against the Bills this Sunday. I just think the story is kind of funny. Maybe I can envision Briggs chowing down on some ribs with a funny bib on and a “What, me worry?” grin on his face. Maybe I like saying "Double Nickel Smokehouse."

I’m half-tempted to drive the two hours or so to the Double Nickel in Elk Grove, California, next week when I’m out West covering the Bears at the Santa Clara 49ers. Anyone want a Double Nickel hat?

Briggs, whom I'm sure will be delighted to talk to reporters about this story, owns 20 percent of the restaurant, according to a Sacramento Bee article. His childhood friend, Cameron Lee, owns the majority stake. At first, I figured this was going to be a money pit for Briggs, but after reading about the idea, it sounds like a quality investment for his hometown. A feel-good story with “fall off the bone” ribs and a side of grits.

On one hand, if anyone can get a little leeway, you’d think it would be Briggs, an 11-year veteran and Pro Bowler, one of the last vestiges of the glory days of the Lovie Smith defense.

Then again, Briggs is also the guy who crashed his Lambo on the highway. The guy seemingly always asking for raises. Last season, he missed time with injury, and instead of seeming like a sturdy veteran, it was almost as if he were an unhappy relic of another time.

Is he the veteran leader or just a guy on his way out in the cruel, cruel world of the NFL?

We won't know until the season begins, but it's not hard to see why this story caught fire in Chicago.

Like all viral stories nowadays, this was spread by social media. Briggs tweeted about the restaurant opening, while his coach, Marc Trestman, told reporters he was absent from a light practice for “personal reasons.” It was exacerbated by a near-universal pessimism about this defense, of which he's the glowering face.

Last year’s injury-plagued disaster is still fresh in our collective mind, and no one is too confident this defense is going to be any good. It’ll be better, only because it can’t be worse.

Although I can see why it sparked a debate -- who skips practice the first week of the season? -- the fact that people were legitimately arguing about Briggs skipping a Monday practice in order to attend the opening of “his” restaurant perfectly epitomizes the importance of the Bears in Chicago.

For a sportswriter, this is a good thing. The Bears are a cash cow for a reason. In a city rife with segregation and corruption, we can all find unity in taking the Bears way too seriously. That’s why reporters outnumber players in the Halas Hall locker room on the weekdays of a season: Gotta talk to the second-string "three technique!"

Last season, I was chatting with Landon Cohen about bars we enjoyed in our respective college days in Athens, Ohio, when a herd of reporters saw me and ran over to his locker. Who needed B-roll of Landon Cohen? Chicago did.

After all this, one thing's for sure: I'm hungry for some barbecue and some Bears football.