Former Gopher great ready for new season – of crooning Christmas tunes

Ben Utecht is part of a holiday show that'll be a break from his work on the issue of brain injuries.
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For Ben Utecht the start of a new season used to mean putting on shoulder pads and hitting the football field.

But now "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" means Ben might be straightening his tie, picking up a mic and heading onstage to revive some schmaltzy Christmas songs popular before he was born.

You might remember Utecht from his gridiron days with the University of Minnesota ... or on a Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts team.

Or perhaps he's familiar for poignantly speaking out about the brain injuries that brought an early end to his football career following at least five concussions.

But if you see him in the next couple months, it's more likely to be while he's singing seasonal tunes made famous by Andy Williams or Bing Crosby. Utecht and Minnesota music veteran Mick Sterling have revived a show that features tunes by those mid-20th Century Christmas crooners complete with a 19 piece orchestra and five other singers backing them.

Here's a taste of it:

Sterling, who put together the show, says the Christmas albums by Williams and Crosby are timeless.

He, Utecht and the rest of the group have more than a dozen holiday shows scheduled including stops in Detroit Lakes, St. Cloud, and five shows at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater.

He's also a published author now

Singing is not a newly discovered interest for Utecht. The son of a pastor, he says it's always been part of his life. Back in his Golden Gopher days, he and a teammate sang the national anthem at the team's first game home game following the 9/11 attacks.

But his seasonal shows will pull him away from a steady diet of public appearances around the issue of brain injuries.

These days he's been promoting his recently released book Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away.

An event Wednesday night at one of the clubs inside U.S. Ban Stadium will be a combination book signing and benefit concert for the American Brain Foundation.

Utecht, who grew up in Hastings, has talked – and sang and written – about fears that the brain damage from his football career will one day cause him to stop recognizing his wife and four daughters.

He told the radio show Only A Game that at age 35 there are already big chunks of his past he can't remember, such as a friend's wedding where Utecht sang and served as a groomsman.

He told Sports Illustrated his new book is essentially a keepsake for his family: “I wanted to provide content for my daughters to be able to hold on to, to have forever,” Utecht said.

Despite the book's title, Utecht is doing more than counting days while his mind slips away. He's working on training his brain to stop forgetting.

He explained to the Star Tribune this month he's enrolled in a program that has him spending hours every day memorizing and repeating strings of words or numbers in the hopes that his brain will forge new pathways around its damaged parts.

He told the paper the results so far have been encouraging. If it stays that way, it could be the start of a wonderful new season in the life of Ben Utecht.

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