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Bookworm Sez: Former NFL player discusses his mind slipping away

You have a job, go to work, and there are things you expect for it.

A paycheck, first of all; that’s the big one. You might expect a job title, too, maybe a company car, and you expect regular hours. But, as in “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away” by Ben Utecht with Mark Tabb, you don’t expect work to make your life disappear.

One of the earliest recollections Ben Utecht cherishes is that of playing football with his father, a preacher with a good arm. In that memory, Utecht, suited up in tiny protective gear, was four years old and eager to learn the game.

They were Minnesota Vikings fans then; growing up, Utecht recalls trips to training camps and following his teams. Meanwhile, he matured physically and mentally and excelled at high school football which, at sixteen, paid off: he was offered a college scholarship, and a chance to play with the Minnesota Gophers.

But the college career Utecht dreamed of having didn’t happen: he was injured, injured, and injured again. He played football, but not as much or as well as he needed to play and when it was time for the NFL drafts, he wasn’t picked.

Throughout this, Utecht struggled with his relationship with God, but a shared-faith connection with Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy saved Utecht’s career. Keeping a promise made at a speaking event, Dungy called Utecht’s agent in the days following the draft and a deal was brokered.

But, says Utecht, this isn’t a book about football.

Five times throughout his career, Utecht suffered concussions. It was common, he says, for players to get their “bell rung.” When that happened, they’d usually be quickly examined, deemed fit to play, and sent back to the field – but for Utecht, the damage seemed to build. Playing with pain is normal in football, but he had terrible headaches, his body didn’t always respond to his brain, important memories went missing, and his personality changed.

He started to understand that the old Ben Utecht wasn’t coming back…

Though it’s a little on the rough side, and though it’s filled with obviously recreated conversations presented as truth, “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away” is really quite a nice surprise.

In this book that’s supposedly not about football, author Utecht (with Mark Tabb) writes mostly about football. That’s not unexpected but how it’s approached is: though the game’s a large part of this story, the authors seem to treat it as just another small layer to Utecht’s life. There’s some name-dropping, yes, play-by-plays, and a light touch of proper bragging, but it all strongly supports the rest of this faith-based, love-filled tale of trust (justified and otherwise) and family.

Readers interested in the seamy side of football or the aftermath of injuries will find this book to be eye-opening but if you’re not a fan, don’t let its sports-centricity scare you off. Even someone with the tiniest pigskin familiarity will find “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away” to be payday.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in Wisconsin.

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