Few people get to live out their dreams, and even fewer get to live out
two. Gregory L. Primus, MD, is one of the latter — the Chicago-based
orthopedic sports specialist has fulfilled his dreams of becoming a
professional athlete and an orthopedic surgeon.
Primus grew up in Denver as a middle child of two brothers, with the
older brother nearer in age. The backyard efforts to keep up with his older
brother and the neighborhood kids gave Primus an advantage not only in
athletics, but also in personality.
“I took a lot of beatings in my early years,” he told
Orthopedics Today. “But that got me into sports at an early
Primus was playing organized competitive football by 6 years old. A
multi-sport athlete through high school, it became evident that football was
going to be his primary sport. It was not until after junior year when he
realized he could play at “the next level” — NCAA Division I
Gregory L. Primus, MD, was drafted by the
Denver Broncos and played for the Chicago Bears before entering medical
Image: Primus GL
“Both my parents have college degrees, and education was always
valued and stressed,” Primus said. “I was fortunate to get a
scholarship and one thing led to the next, but I was always a student
Football was a talent he pursued — but academics never took a back
seat. “Just like I started playing football at 6 years old, I cannot
remember a time that I did not want to be a doctor,” Primus said. “I
consider myself blessed, because I feel like I have lived out two dreams.”
Division I football
Primus stayed local and attended Colorado State University —
playing football for the Colorado State Rams. The uncommon nature of his
situation — a student-athlete taking pre-med classes while playing
football at a Division I school — was apparent in his interactions with
faculty and professors.
“It was unusual for a lot of teachers,” Primus said. “I
spent some time convincing teachers that I was not a typical dumb jock
stereotype, unfortunate as it is that stereotype exists. I remember a biology
course I took. I did not do well on the first test, and I went to talk to the
professor about it. The response was, ‘Oh, well, you are a football
player.’ I had to fight through that stereotype.”
He added, “People forget about that aspect. I got the accolades and
recognition that come with being a good football player, but I also had to
break through some barriers and stereotypes that even persisted when I went to
[medical school at] the University of Chicago.”
Playing football professionally was not necessarily a priority for
Primus while taking pre-med classes at Colorado State, because his size and
athletic prowess were not as impressive as those of typical National Football
League (NFL) players.
“I was a pre-med student struggling to get up and get through
organic chemistry, feeling fortunate to still be playing the game I
loved,” he said. “I never looked great on paper, never had coaches
and scouts salivating over me. I was just one of those guys who, if given the
opportunity, could play the game. [Even] going to college and playing at a
Division I school, the NFL was not a priority.”
Then, everything changed.
Pivotal junior year
“After my sophomore year, I exploded,” Primus said. “I
shattered some records and was one of the top receivers in the conference that
year. Now people started paying attention.”
Primus became an honorable mention All-American, overcoming what was
primarily a rushing offense on the field to break all-time wide receiver
records at Colorado State University. He was an All-Conference player, posting
more than 1,000 yards receiving 3 straight seasons from 1990 to 1992. At his
alma mater, Primus holds the second highest record for most career receiving
yards (3,263). He also holds the record there for most yards in one game (256),
is second for career receptions (194) and is third, fourth and fifth on the
all-time list for receiving yards in a season (1,081 yards, 1,008 yards and
1,007 yards, respectively).
During what Primus described as his “pivotal” junior year, as
other players his age and talent level started to get drafted for the NFL,
Primus recognized he could play at the next level.
“If these guys are going, I can go,” he said. “I have
seen what they do, and I do it better.”
Making it to the pros
With the realization he could later complete his education as a
physician, but may never get a second chance to play in the NFL, Primus put his
medical dream on hold to pursue his dream of being a professional football
player. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1993, which gave him the chance
to play with some of the players he grew up watching — and to catch
practice balls from legendary quarterback John Elway.
Primus was later traded to the city he now calls home: Chicago. He
played for the Chicago Bears for 2 years before being cut from the team. For
Primus, it was the start of a trying time.
“I was not convinced I was done playing ball,” he said.
“I tell people that for professional athletes, [when] it comes to the ones
that make it or do not, it is such a thin line. It is almost invisible. There
are so many factors that go into truly making it and having a good career.
There are a few stellar athletes out there who stand apart and everyone
recognizes those names, but all those other jerseys and numbers out there
… we are all similar in terms of our talent level.”
Primus said what followed was a “difficult year” in which he
had to make a choice.
“Do I stay out another year, delaying my ultimate dream to become a
surgeon? Or do I go ahead and hang up the cleats and just close that chapter in
my life?” he said.
During that period, Primus trained for professional football —
working out for a few teams — while applying to medical schools.
“I started getting into impressive medical schools, so now I really
had to make a decision,” he said. “When I got my acceptance to the
University of Chicago, I said, you know, this is the sign telling me it is time
to move on.”
On to another dream
In 1997, Primus entered medical school at the University of Chicago.
“I just knew I wanted to be a physician, and that I had a
surgeon’s personality,” he said.
Given his interest in the immune system and an undergraduate major in
microbiology, Primus initially thought he would be more suited to work in
transplant surgery. After getting experience in the operating room and learning
more about the interplay between athletics and the sports medicine component of
orthopedics, his interests shifted toward orthopedic surgery.
“It was a perfect fit,” he said.
Since then, Primus started his own orthopedic sports medicine practice
in Chicago. He is still involved with the NFL and speaks at their rookie
symposium. The topic — success on and off the field.
“I discuss my story and how to think outside of football,” he
Primus also maintains his interest in the game and is a self-proclaimed
Chicago Bears fan.
“It was the Bears that brought me here,” he said. “I fell
in love with this city. [It] was a blessing they called me. I brought my wife
here, I have my two children here and I am building my practice here. For those
reasons, I want Chicago to continue to win and do as well as they can.”
– by Robert Press
- Gregory L. Primus, MD, can be reached at the Chicago Center for
Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, 18660 Graphics Dr., Suite 100, Tinley
Park, IL 60477; 708-686-1100; email: email@example.com.
- Disclosure: Primus has no relevant financial disclosures.