By the time the fifth round rolls around on draft weekend, NFL teams are typically down to taking flyers on guys with high ability but maybe questionable character, likely special-teamers, or fits down the depth chart. In the fifth round of the 2013 draft, the Bears got none of those.
What they did get was Jordan Mills, a right tackle whose fit was at the top of the depth chart, starting all 16 games, and with enough character to win his teammates’ vote for the rookie winner of the team’s prestigious annual Brian Piccolo Award.
Mills took over when J’Marcus Webb failed to hold the job in training camp and kept it right on into Game 16 when he took the field despite breaking his foot before the game ever started.
“Jordan Mills steps in at right tackle as a rookie, a fifth-round pick, starts every play until the Green Bay game. and he starts that game as well,” said offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer.
“The courage that this guy has: He breaks his foot in pregame. He shakes it off, he goes in, he tapes it, he comes back out and he plays. He comes off and he says, ‘My foot’s broken.’ I said, ‘When’d you break your foot?’ He says, ‘’Pregame.’ But that’s the courage that he exemplifies. That’s why the team chose him.”
Mills, clearly moved by the award, thanked his teammates and in particular, singled out fellow rookie starter and line mate Kyle Long, “my best friend and brother. Without you,” Mills said, looking over at Long, “I wouldn’t be here.”
The feelings were mutual.
“Jordan has done a tremendous job and he’s handled it with such grace,” Long said. “He’s handled everything that’s come his way. Even the story that coach Kromer was telling, that’s a true story. He broke his foot in the pre-game. He was like, ‘My foot doesn’t feel right, but we’re going to go out there and give it run.’ He almost had to get pulled out of the game. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”
Mills talked at some length about the meaning of not just the award, but of what he had learned about Piccolo going back to when Mills was a youngster growing up in rural Louisiana.
“‘Brian’s Song’ I saw when I was a young kid, didn’t know much about it, and as young kids, people tell us stuff and it’s in one ear and out the other,” Mills said.
“But when I got drafted here I wanted to learn so much about the history of the Bears. We basically started the NFL in 1920, the great people they had: Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Brian Piccolo. I made it my job not just to come here to play football but to know the history.”
Mills saw how Piccolo went undrafted, worked his way onto the Bears’ roster and eventually started along with Gale Sayers. What Piccolo had inside was what impressed Mills most of all.
“To see somebody go undrafted, everybody saying he’s too slow, he’s too small, he’s not strong enough, to conquer everything he conquered— [he] showed it doesn’t matter… to have heart, the spirit and the will to do whatever you want to.
“Even though his life and career ended early, cancer did not take his spirit, did not take his will, it did not take his heart, and that speaks volumes to me every day. Even though I may not be the strongest, the fastest, the most athletic, I like to show that I have the will, the heart and the spirit to conquer anything.”