By Dan Durkin--
(CBS) Former Bears center Roberto Garza joined the Mully and Hanley Show on Monday morning to discuss his 10-year run with the Bears, which almost never happened.
"I was an unrestricted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons (in 2005)," said Garza, who's currently a free agent. "And they hadn't really called or made any offers at the time. So, the Ravens were interested, they had a three-year deal on the table, all I had to do was pass a physical."
Garza wasn't prepared for what his physical with the Ravens revealed.
"They said, 'Your knee is a little loose, we're going to run an MRI,'" Garza said. "They run an MRI and they're like, 'You have no ACL in your right knee.'"
Recently married at the time, Garza thought for sure at that point his NFL career was over. He didn't get another call for weeks, until the Green Bay Packers invited him in for a visit. But once again, he heard doubts from their medical staff about his knee not being able to hold up.
It got to the point that Garza had a team doctor with the San Antonio Spurs send out a letter to the league emphasizing that this was a rare case that shouldn't impact his ability to perform in the league.
"He tested all my joints and he said that all my joints had a little flexibility in them, more than the average person," Garza said. "They had a little give to them. So he said, with this, he thought I would have no problem continuing to play football."
Even so, it took one person sticking his neck out for Garza to get him onto the Bears roster.
"Chris Ballard was here (in Chicago) and scouted for the Bears at the time," Garza said. "He was a defensive coordinator at (Texas A&M) Kingsville, which is the college I went to. So he had to stand on the table to put his job on the line for them to bring me in."
Garza came in on a one-year veteran minimum deal. He was a backup who broke into the lineup late in the season and parlayed that into a six-year deal, and the rest is history. Not only did his knee hold up, his 145 starts along the offensive line are the fourth-most in team history.
The last two seasons took a toll on Garza, who was one of the few remaining links to the 2006 NFC Championship team. The Bears released Garza on April 2.
"It was tough because we did have a lot of talent on the team, especially offensively," Garza said. "We felt we had all the pieces in place, we just didn't play that way at times. It was unfortunate. I felt like we could've done some good things. But at the end of the day, it's about winning football games, and we didn't win enough games."
That said, Garza said that his former teammates are optimistic about what's ahead for the Bears under a new regime led by general manager Ryan Pace.
"The guys look like they're excited about the new regime and the pieces they're putting together," Garza said. "I think it's going to be fun to be a Chicago Bears fan."
Garza expects the guys he lined up next to -- like Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Kyle Long -- to be leaders moving forward, but he also expects quarterback Jay Cutler to step up.
"A lot of guys in that locker room will be looking obviously to Jay Cutler to step up and continue the role he has," Garza said. "Defensively, they have a lot of new guys there. So it's going to be interesting to see.
"Antrel Rolle has been playing in the NFL for a long time -- he has that leadership mentality and work ethic. Different guys are going to have to step up and lead that team in the right direction."
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.
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