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Bear Necessity
Bill Syken
November 13, 2006
From football in the street of a South Texas border town, guard Roberto Garza has worked his way into a prominent role on Chicago's resurgent offensive line
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November 13, 2006

Bear Necessity

From football in the street of a South Texas border town, guard Roberto Garza has worked his way into a prominent role on Chicago's resurgent offensive line

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REX GROSSMAN, Bears 218 6
DREW BREES, Saints 252 8
BRETT FAVRE, Packers 263 9
PHILIP RIVERS, Chargers 210 10
JAKE PLUMMER, Broncos 190 10

Roberto Garza lines the tools of his trade along a narrow table: helmet, shoulder pads, thigh and knee pads, gloves, cleats, football pants and jersey. He is here on his off day, in the room at the Chicago Bears' practice facility where the offensive line usually meets, to tape his weekly segment for Chicago's Telemundo affiliate. The piece, in which he explains the basics of American football to Telemundo's Spanish-speaking audience, is called Yarda por Yarda con Roberto Garza.

"Ready?" asks Garza.

"Ready," says the cameraman, who turns on his camera light and begins rolling. Garza stares at the camera and freezes.

Then he breaks up laughing. Perhaps he was not so ready after all.

Oscar Guzm�n, the Telemundo sports anchor who is producing the shoot, smiles. "The bloopers are the best part," Guzm�n says. "We have lots of bloopers."

It's easy for Garza to laugh these days. The Bears are off to their best start since their Super Bowl season of 1985. The afternoon before, Chicago had dominated the Buffalo Bills 40--7, and he had played well. On pass plays Garza stood up the Bills' defensive tackles, giving quarterback Rex Grossman plenty of time to throw. On running plays he often paved the way, opening holes for running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson.

But tell the 27-year-old right guard that he played well, and he's likely to argue the point. Garza is always thinking about the little things he could have done better. In football big men hit other big men, but first they must master complicated schemes. The bewildering diagrams and jargon scrawled on the whiteboards in the linemen's meeting room are a reminder of that complexity.

But for all of Garza's intricate knowledge of football, his lesson this week on Yarda por Yarda couldn't be more basic. He is explaining the equipment he wears and why he wears it.

"Our viewers, some have been here [in the U.S.] two years, some two weeks," Guzman says. "They don't know this game." Garza and Guzman came up with the idea of doing these tutorials over a get-to-know-you dinner last year. It makes sense because Garza is the perfect person to introduce the NFL to the Telemundo audience. A son of Mexican immigrants, he was drawn to football before he even knew what it was.

Garza grew up in Rio Hondo, a town of about 2,000 in the southern tip of Texas, just 20 minutes north of the Mexican border. His parents, Roberto and Ofelia, had emigrated from Mexico just after they were married and settled in Rio Hondo because Roberto already had family living there. A year after they arrived, they had their first of four children, Roberto Jr.

The elder Roberto drove a tractor and Ofelia worked as a janitor. The family lived just down the street from Rio Hondo High. Their house was close enough that Roberto Jr. could hear the roars and see the lights that illuminated the night sky on fall Fridays. He was fascinated even before he understood what was causing all the commotion.

Soon he learned. Garza's uncle Juan was a fan of American football; he would come over on Sundays to watch Dallas Cowboys games on television, and when his nephew was six he started taking Roberto to the high school on Friday nights to watch the games through a chain link fence. "I was mesmerized," Garza says.

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