Mike Singletary and the Lost Finger

At 52, Mike Singletary still has muscles on top of his muscles.

Even so, it’s easy to look at the broad-shouldered, barrel-chested and slim-waisted Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker and not see a legendary former player.

The reason for this is obvious. Singletary is now a coach — a not-so-successful coach who has been ridiculed in the press and lampooned on Letterman. Memories of his playing days are buried under the thick rubble of losses and motivational phrases that have become ready-made punchlines.

Given that backdrop it was jarring to hear the following exchange during Friday’s press conference.

Singletary, who rarely, if ever, invokes his playing career without prompting, had just finished discussing the performances of linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, who played against the Chargers with broken right hands:

Q: Had you ever been in a similar situation (as a player)?

MS: Yes, I have.

Q: Did you have a broken hand?

MS: No, I just lost a finger.

Q: You lost a finger?

MS: Just … this finger here came off (looking at left hand) and had to stitch it back on and wrap it up and go out and play.

Sure enough, on Dec. 11, 1983, Singletary lost the tip of the middle finger on his left hand, had it stitched back on and demanded to return to Chicago’s game at Minnesota. Adding to the legend, a half-crazed Singletary returned with a wrapped-up hand and began screaming at Vikings offensive lineman Dave Huffman, telling him the Vikings wouldn’t score.

Minnesota didn’t score. The Bears won, 19-13.

After Singletary matter-of-factly mentioned his lost finger Friday, no one rushed to shout out the next question. Instead, there was a moment of awkward silence — you had your finger stitched back on?

It was a reminder that Singletary, the NFL coach with an 18-21 career record, was once Ray Lewis and Superman rolled into one.

But the moment didn’t last long. Here came the next question: Would Singletary pay attention to the Rams and Seahawks games Sunday since they affected his team’s future?

“My future depends on the St. Louis game that we have coming up,” he said. “My future, to me, I take it one week at a time, and I don’t really worry about all the other things.”

Singletary, evidently, hadn’t heard the question correctly. He thought it was about his shaky job status.

It was a reminder that Singletary, the once-indestructible middle linebacker, wears hearing aids.