Letting go is such a hard thing to do

Saturday marked a couple of sad anniversaries for me.

One year ago, my beloved Sadie was put to sleep after a 13-year run. It also marked 19 years to the day my family said goodbye to our German Shepherd/Husky Butch, who was also 13, in 1994.

As I thought about my dogs of past — while contemplating killing my 1-year-old English Setter, Bandit, for wandering off too far and spoiling yet another run — I couldn’t help but wonder. Why can’t we euthanize our favorite professional athletes when they hit the end of their career?

Right now, my good friend Davey Dunmire is in the third stage of grief — the bargaining stage — after the Chicago Bears announced last week that they won’t bring back linebacker Brian Urlacher for the 2013 season. He’s going to go back to stage 2 — anger — when Urlacher eventually signs with the hated Minnesota Vikings for less money that the Bears included in their take-it-or-leave-it offer.

It would save Davey, as well as myself and tons and tons of other Bears fans, great pain and sorrow if we could just put the great linebacker to sleep. We could tell his family we sent him to live on a farm where he gets to play football all day long.

Then we’d never have to see the great Urlacher suit up for a hated rival, and we wouldn’t hear him say that it was a “slap in the face” or “insulting” that the Bears only offered him $2 million to play football for one year.

Then I would never have to remind Davey that Urlacher of 2012 wasn’t even 25 percent of what Urlacher was in 2008. I wouldn’t have to point out that the Bears just gave Urlacher like $8 when they didn’t have to a few years ago when the linebacker got his nose out of joint because Lance Briggs was getting paid more than Urlacher was.

Imagine for a minute the last time you had your old dog put down. He or she was probably in pain because of bad hips. Maybe the pooch couldn’t hear or see anymore. You either can’t afford life-prolonging surgery, or more importantly, you don’t think it’s humane to make your dog go through such a procedure.

Now imagine that instead of getting the big shot, your dog leaves you for an owner who can or will afford the treatment. Then you’ve got to see you’re long-time best friend rejuvenated and strolling down the street with a neighbor you never really liked. That is just wrong.

It’s also wrong for anybody to see Urlacher suit up for another team. It’s wrong to see Kevin Youkilis play third base and hit 20 home runs for the New York Yankees. Or see Ed Reed pick off passes for the Houston Texans. Or see Wes Welker duck out of bounds and avoid a hit while wearing a Denver Broncos uniform.

Fans of the Seattle Marines — the three or four who actually pay attention to the game — shouldn’t have to see the great Ichiro play for the Yankees, either.

By the way, I don’t think the overall goal of the Yankees is to win championships. Rather, the Bronx Bombers want to force ever fan in the country to someday see their aging hero suit up in pin stripes.

There’s no other way to explain the number of has-beens on the Yankees the past decade.

Imagine if we never had to see Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform. Just think if Joe Montana would have been put to sleep before he could but on the Chiefs uniform.

No Joe Namath as a Ram. No Willy Mays as a Met. No Troy Aikman as a color commentator and no O.J. Simpson as a 49er. Or a murder. No Emmitt Smith with the Cardinals or on Dancing With The Stars.

No Don Mattingly — the great “Donny Baseball” — as manager of the Dodgers. “Donny Dodger?”

Don’t even get me started on Brett Favre.

Saying goodbye to your sports heroes is a difficult thing to do. So is losing your best friend.

Letting go of your dog, though, is much easier knowing that you never have to worry about Fido coming back to your yard and biting your new dog.

Instead, your dog goes to Doggie Heaven and you get over your grief a few months later by welcoming a new best friend to your home. As George Carlin said, “Life is a series of dogs.”

If you’re a Bears fan, life is a series of linebackers. Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary retired as Bears, and Urlacher should too.

We should take No. 54 to the doctor, give him a shot and send him off to Linebacker Heaven. Then the Bears can draft Manti Te’o — or a linebacker who isn’t bat-guano crazy — to fill his shoes.

By late August, Davey would be able to begin the final stage of his Urlacher grief. Acceptance.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who is still clearly in the denial stage of grief over the loss of Brian Urlacher, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.