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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Retirement of Brian Urlacher: Remembering the Face of the Bears theLast 15 Years

Many teams in the NFL have periods of success defined by elite starting quarterbacks; Montana and the 49ers, Aikman and the Cowboys, Brady and the Patriots etc.  However, for Chicago, a team whose history is defined by defense and more specifically middle linebackers (Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus), it is only fitting that BrianUrlacher retire in Chicago, where he spent his entire 13-year career.  

Brian Urlacher played his college career at the University of New Mexico, and though he got off to a slow start his first two years, his final two years were something to remember.  When Rocky Long was hired for Urlacher’sjunior year, his raw athleticism was realized and he played various positions on the field, including strong safety, wide receiver, and return specialist.  In his career, Urlacher had 442 tackles, 11 sacks, 11 forced fumbled, and three interceptions, to go along with his six touchdown receptions and five kick returns for touchdowns.  Already considered one of the most talented prospects in the 2000 draft, Urlacher went on to have an impressive combine, running a 4.57 40 and bench pressing 225 pounds 27 times.  The Chicago Bears drafted Urlacher with the 9th pick in the draft, hoping to get a defensive playmaker that had been missing from the team since Mike Singletary had left. In his rookie year, Urlacher led the Bears with 124 tackles and eight sacks, which also broke the franchise’s previous rookie records.  Urlacher was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and elected to his first of eight Pro Bowls.

As Urlacher’s career progressed, he got better and better for the Bears, leading the Bears to a 13-3 record in 2001 and was named to his first of five All Pro Teams as well as the Pro Bowl. In 2002, thought the Bears had a mediocre season, Urlacher set the Bears single season tackles record with 153 and was again an All Pro and Pro Bowl selection.  After coming off an injury plagued 2004 season, Urlacher led the Bears defensive, which was the most disruptive in the NFL.  The Bears allowed the fewest points in the league and caused the most turnovers; and as their leader, Urlacher was named 2005 Defensive Player of the Year.  The very next year, the Bears were the NFC’s best team, and Urlacher had one of his best years.  Urlacherhad one of his best games as a pro when he recorded 25 tackles and also forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, helping the Bears overcome a 20-point deficit against Arizona; a game which will be remembered for Denny Green’s “We are who we thought they were” tirade.  The Bears lost in the Super Bowl that year to the Colts, butUrlacher earned his fourth All Pro and fifth Pro Bowl selection.  Urlacher missed 15 games in 2009, but came back to record 125 tackles in 2010, his highest total since 2006.  Urlacher ended his career as the Bears’ franchise leader in tackles, with 1,353, and also recorded 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, and 12 forced fumbles.

When Urlacher becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, it will be interesting to see how the writers vote.  In his entire 13-year career, Urlacher failed to record 100 tackles in a season only 4 times, 3 of which were shortened by injuries, keeping him out a total of 26 games.  However, the NFL didn’t start recording tackles as an official stat until 2001, so linebackers are often judged more by their accolades and their dominance, along with the defense that they led.  Unfortunately for Urlacher, the Bears offense never matched the dominance of the defense and he wasn’t able to win a Super Bowl.  His Defensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and five All Pro selections will go a long way to getting him in; however, it may be the history of Chicago’s middle linebackers that gets him in.  If nothing else, Urlacher has validated himself in the Chicago linebacker lineage, and Bears fans, and all fans of the NFL will miss his play in the years to come.

Bryan Ridall

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