Rebuffed by Bears, Mike Singletary embraces next challenge: Reality TV

One of the most fearless football players of his era laid atop a bamboo bed in a Panamanian jungle last fall. It was 2 a.m. and Mike Singletary, the Bears’ Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker from 1981-92, had to use the bathroom.

SHARE Rebuffed by Bears, Mike Singletary embraces next challenge: Reality TV

Mike Singletary will appear on CBS’ “Beyond the Edge” starting Wednesday.

Robert Voets/CBS

One of the most fearless football players of his era laid atop a bamboo bed in a Panamanian jungle last fall. It was 2 a.m. and Mike Singletary, the Bears’ Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker from 1981-92, had to use the bathroom.  Though he spent the next few minutes trying to convince himself he didn’t, soon it was time to act.

“It gets to the point where you can’t wait,” he said.

It was pitch black outside — the nearby fire had died — and Singletary didn’t want to get lost in the remote jungle on the way to the latrine. So he woke up the person with the nearest bed — former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis — to go along with him. The two found their way to the bathroom area, and back, without incident.

“Those first couple nights …” Singletary said, “it’d take ya some time to get used to that.”

Singletary was filming “Beyond the Edge,” the CBS reality show that premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. Singletary and Lewis were joined by country singers Craig Morgan and Lauren Alaina; reality show vets Colton Underwood [“The Bachelor”] and Eboni K. Williams; [“The Real Housewives of New York City’]; supermodel Paulina Porizkova; former NBA star Metta World Peace; and former “Full House” kid sister Jodie Sweetin. The nine contestants spend two weeks enduring challenges in the jungle to raise money for their charities. Think “Naked and Afraid,” but with clothed celebrities.

It’s an out-of-character turn for Singletary, who was the 49ers’ head coach for 40 games from 2008-10. His most recent head coaching gigs were two years at Trinity Christian Academy-Addison in the Dallas area, where he went 1-21 from 2018-2019, and eight games with the AAF’s Memphis Express before the league suspended operations in 2019. 

He spent the last two offseasons trying to latch on with the only franchise he knew as a player. 

Despite not serving as an NFL position coach or coordinator since 2013, Singletary was one of nine people Matt Nagy interviewed for the Bears’ defensive coordinator job in January 2021. He didn’t get the job.

Shortly after the Bears fired Nagy two months ago, Singletary picked up the phone and called president/CEO Ted Phillips to put his name in for head coaching consideration. 

“To let them know that I was available,” he said. “And, if the opportunity presented itself, to hopefully have an opportunity to do so.”

They didn’t interview him. 

Singletary said he’s learned from his most recent stops. At the high school level, he said, parents are instrumental to how successful a program can be. At the AAF, he said, “it’s amazing how many people fall through the cracks” and miss out on chances to become NFL players.

He envisioned a Chicago homecoming as combining football with a greater good. Singletary, who lives in the Dallas area, launched his own non-profit organization, “Changing Our Perspective,” after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. His charity focuses on health, education and mental wellbeing for marginalized youth.

“I saw an opportunity in Chicago because that’s one of the point places that I see — being there and knowing the South Side and the West Side and the issues they have,” he said. “Having the opportunity to coach there would have been a win-win situation.”

Singletary hasn’t closed the door to coaching somewhere “if the right opportunity comes about,” but said he wants to focus on his non-profit. That’s one of the reasons he agreed to appear on the reality show — each week, the show awards money to contestants’ charities. 

“My wife was shocked and to be honest with you, so was I,” he said.

Singletary surprised himself with how intrigued he was by the idea —  bad weather, giant bugs, strange food and all.

“You’d wake up and there’s this insect about 6 inches from your face and you’re trying to figure out, ‘What the heck is this? I don’t even know what this is,’” said Singletary, who said he ate snails. “It was pretty amazing and beautiful at the same time. Scary at times.”

He talked to former soldiers and survivalists about how to prepare. They told him the biggest challenge would be building fires in the rainy jungle, and they were right. Eventually, cast members collected logs and kept them in a dry place, away from the rain. 

“My football background … always comes into play in terms of being able to survive,” he said. “The mental toughness that you have to have in order to continue to move forward. All the little things about moving your feet and having good vision as you run through the jungle. It was pretty wild. There were a lot of things that you just don’t think about on an everyday basis. When you’re in a jungle it’s a whole different mindset.”

And no, he joked, he didn’t have to imagine former Bears coordinator Buddy Ryan motivating him along the way.

“I don’t think I needed Buddy yelling at me on top of everything else that was going on,” he said.

He leaned on Lewis, who was his next-door neighbor — they had mosquito nets above them and in between them when they slept. Singletary, who was once Lewis’ position coach with the Ravens, talked to his fellow Hall of Famer every night about the day’s activities.

Eventually, Singletary didn’t even notice the cameras. Ever the intense competitor, he was locked in on the task at hand.

“If there were cameras or no cameras, whatever the situation was — after a while, you get beat down by all of the elements that are out there,” he said. “If there’s a camera there, you notice it. If there’s not a camera there, you could care less. You’re just so busy trying to focus on your teammate and yourself and how you’re gonna get through this next event, or how you’re gonna get through the night, or how you’re gonna start the day.”

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