He could be wearing a lab coat, doing brain work, or something else that doesn’t involve his body taking a beating.But why do that if you’re Ben Braunecker when you could be banging heads, playing a game against the best football players in the world and getting treatment to soothe aches after a big win?
“At 20, I didn’t think I’d be playing football after college,” said Braunecker, 25, and a fourth-year tight end with the Bears. “Then I started focusing on it really hard and started having success on the field and I was like, ‘All right, this is a possibility.’ ”
You don’t have to be as smart as Braunecker, a molecular and cellular biology major at Harvard before hooking on with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2016, to know there are easier ways in life to make a living other than playing special teams in the NFL.
“It’s always fun,” Braunecker said. “Well, it’s not fun every day. But moments like this make it worth it, without a doubt.”
It took until the middle of his fourth season, but Braunecker finally had his “moment.” It happened on Sunday at Soldier Field against the Detroit Lions, as the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Trubisky late in the first half to jolt an offense that has been on life-support all season.
It was Braunecker’s third reception of the season, 10th of his career and first TD since he was a consensus All-American at Harvard as a senior.
Give the Ivy Leaguer an ‘A’ for perseverance.
“I’ve been imagining, dreaming of what the first touchdown was going to be like, for quite some time,” Braunecker said after the Bears won 20-13 to improve to 4-5 and snap a four-game losing streak. “I’ve had to wait 3 years to do it, but I’m glad it finally happened.”
Braunecker has earned his roster spot since his rookie year thanks to his reliability on special teams. That’s why contributing a TD on offense was particularly special.
“I’ve scored touchdowns before so I thought it was going to be like that, only a couple of notches higher,” Braunecker said. “It was such an amazing rush. It heightened all my senses to the point where I didn’t even know what was going on.”
On the play, Braunecker, lined up on the right side of the field out of a trips formation and recognized the Lions were in man coverage. He beat safety Will Harris up the seam, angled to the right corner of the end zone and adjusted his body to make a diving catch.
Trubisky’s pass landed softly in the hands of Braunecker, who caught the ball while falling in the end zone with 25 seconds left in the first half.
“Braunecker ran a great route,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We caught them in a coverage that we were hoping to get them in. The guys got to make the plays. (Trubisky) put it in the only place where he could put that ball, and that was a tough catch. … Braunecker had strong hands and came down inbounds. It was a nice jolt of energy for us.”
It was the first TD this season by a tight end for the Bears, who made the “team decision,” Nagy said, to make 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen inactive for the game.
“It felt like a boost of energy across the stadium, both on the sideline and from the fans,” said Braunecker, whose score had the Bears up 7-6 at halftime. “When that happened, I was just happy that the coaches put me in for that opportunity. We saw something on film, stretched the field a little bit.”
Trubisky had made few good throws to the point, so letting six points slip through a receiver’s hands could have been disastrous.
“It was right where I wanted it,” Braunecker said of his QB’s pass. “It was a pretty difficult catch, a lot harder than I imagined it was going to be. I was very relieved to secure that.”
“When a guy’s number is called, you have to make a play,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “He made a huge play for us.”
The science major had a blast doing it. It’s not rocket science, after all.