The end did come in the middle of March instead of a football field on the first Sunday in February. On a personal note the biggest disappointment for me is that this past football season was the best of my life as a parent, as my son really started liking football and he really liked our road trip to Jacksonville to see the Bears dismantle the Jaguars. He got his first jersey this year for the holidays and the only players jersey he wanted to wear was Urlacher’s #54 and now when the Bears season kicks off in September he will never get to wear it and see Urlacher play on the field at the same time.
As a fan I knew the end was near when the Bears needing a defensive stand against the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson,were all watching as he blew by all the Bears defensive players but especially Urlacher as though he was standing still making Urlacher look like a middle linebacker well past his prime. Yes, Urlacher was no longer the player he once was and the end was near but I really had no idea it was this near.
Now the real question isn’t will there be a great middle linebacker in the middle of the Monsters of the Midway defense, but the real question is when will it happen.
The Bears have had one of the best lineage of middle linebackers in the history of the NFL! It started with Hall of Famer Dick Butkus who played the position from 1965-1973 with the ferocity that no other player may ever match. Butkus like Urlacher had great hands which collected 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries and before they kept the stat Butkus was the master of ripping balls out runners hands. Butkus will always be remembered as the guy sitting on the sidelines with bloodied knuckles waiting to take the field so he could blow up his next victim. Butkus is the beginning of the line in the history of great middle linebackers in Chicago Bears history.
The next great middle linebacker came to the Bears eight years later when Mike Singletary arrived at Halas Hall. Singletary had 12 career fumble recoveries and 7 interceptions, but Singletary was a super tackler leading or 2nd on the team in tackles for his entire Bears career. The tackle that I remember the most was in the 1985 NFC Championship Game when he stopped a very young and in his prime Eric Dickerson in his tracks on a 4th and inches that put the Bears defense in control of the shutout. Singletary went on to help lead the 46 Defense to the Super Bowl and part of history as the Greatest Super Bowl Championship Team of all-time. Singletary’s intensity and his eye-ball shots were about as famous as Butkus bloody fingers.
In 1998 I watched the University of New Mexico play UCF at the Citrus Bowl little did I know at the time I was watching the next great Chicago Bears middle linebacker. Urlacher has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade now. He has more interceptions than Butkus more fumble recoveries than Singletary and though not as feared as either one he was by far the most superior athlete. He could make plays in the secondary and still rundown speedy running backs. Urlacher was the perfect athlete to anchor Lovie’s Smith defense and now both are gone forever.
So the real question is not will there be a next but when. Is it possible the next will arrive as soon as this year if Manti Te’o slides to the Bears when they select in the first round? Or is it more likely that the next great Bears middle linebacker is a zit-faced eighth grader that will play in his first freshman game this fall?
Either way being able to watch both Singletary and Urlacher’s career has been part of what makes being a Bears fan great. I also was able to hear stories of Butkus from his high school days through his pro days from my Dad. Bears greats never die but their stories and legends always continue to grow! My son got to watch Urlacher and will forever be able to tell stories of seeing the Bears great on a beautiful Florida Sunday afternoon and decade from now he will be wearing a jersey of the next great Bears middle linebacker!
Thanks for the passion and leadership for the past 13 years! I can’t wait to see you in Canton and can’t wait to see who is next in line!