Brian Urlacher Continues Bears Tradition of Linebacker Greatness

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Brian Urlacher
OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Brian Urlacher /

With his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brian Urlacher continues the Chicago Bears tradition of greatness at the linebacker position.

Former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher will take his rightful place in Canton, Ohio as a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2018.  It’s fitting that Urlacher was elected as a first ballot Hall of Famer, joining other Chicago Bears greats Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary as middle linebackers elected in their first year of eligibility.

There have been six true middle linebackers selected to the Hall on their first ballot; the Bears have three of them.  We may not know quarterbacks, but we know linebackers here in Chicago!

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A lot of people around the Chicago area probably know Brian Urlacher more for the billboards that litter the surrounding roadways with a full head of new hair and the word “Restore” adorning them.  That’s appropriate because Urlacher restored greatness to the Chicago Bears after some pretty lean years.  Much like in the last several years, the Bears became pretty irrelevant after their reign of dominance in the mid to late 1980’s.  He was a transcendent player who changed the course of the Bears franchise for more than a decade.

As members of the infamous ’85 Bears aged and retired, the new crop of Bears left a lot to be desired.  Much of the 1990’s Bears years were lean years like we have experienced recently with playoff appearances as rare as Virginia McCaskey sightings.  Then along came a safety drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft out of New Mexico.  Safety?  Yes, Brian Urlacher played safety in college.  He even returned some kicks.  That’s the kind of athleticism that the Bears found with the #9 overall pick.  He turned that athleticism and a rare combination of size and strength into a Hall of Fame career and turned the Bears franchise around.

I remember when the Bears first brought Urlacher in, they didn’t even really know where to fit him in.  They had a pretty strong linebacking corps with Warrick Holdman, Roosevelt Colvin and Barry Minter.  The Bears started Urlacher as a strong side linebacker, but he struggled early on.  Then the ymoved him to the middle and he took off.

In Dick Jauron’s scheme, with a couple of monster DT’s in front of him to occupy offensive linemen, Urlacher was free to flow to the ball and make plays.  And make plays he did.  He played his way into the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl selection.  The next season, the Bears shocked the league and soared to a 13-3 record and their first postseason berth since 1994.

Urlacher continued to flourish in Jauron’s system, but the results didn’t show up in the win column.  Eventually, the Bears fired Jauron and hired Lovie Smith.  Under Smith, the Bears completely changed their defensive scheme.  Instead of occupying blockers and allowing Urlacher to flow to the ball, Lovie asked Urlacher to drop into coverage and take away the middle of the field.  Urlacher took to Lovie’s system like a duck to water.  After missing most of the 2004 season due to injury, Urlacher earned the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year award and another All Pro nod.

CHICAGO – JANUARY 21: Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears holds up the George S. Halas trophy as he celebrates the Bears 39-14 win against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game January 21, 2007 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO – JANUARY 21: Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears holds up the George S. Halas trophy as he celebrates the Bears 39-14 win against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game January 21, 2007 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The next season, Urlacher and the Bears defense carried the Bears to Super Bowl XLI.  Seeing Urlacher hoist the George Halas trophy, awarded to the NFC Champion, on a snowy night at Soldier Field is one of the highlights of my Bears fandom.  Of course, things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go in the Super Bowl, but seeing Urlacher on the biggest stage was still a thrill.

Urlacher and the Bears defense continued to thrive under Lovie Smith, but stop me if you’ve heard this before, struggles on the offensive side of the ball continued to plague the team.  It looked like the pieces would come together when the Bears traded for Jay Cutler, but the Bears fell short in the 2010 NFC championship game.

In the end, the Bears fired Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo and hired Phil Emery as GM and Marc Trestman as head coach following the 2012 season.  I think they wanted to usher in a new culture and clean out a lot of Lovie’s guys, so the Bears did not bring Urlacher back.  We’ll always wonder what could have been if he’d stuck around to shepard the defense another year or two.

That brings us to today, where Urlacher became a first ballot Hall of Famer.  He has proudly carried the torch of the Chicago Bears middle linebackers. What’s impressive about Urlacher’s career is that it was almost like two careers, thriving in two different schemes.  It’s his versatility and athleticism that propelled him to greatness.

We can debate the which of the Bears middle linebackers is best after the induction at Canton.  In the meantime, we can reflect on Urlacher’s 1779 tackles, 22 INTs, 11 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions.  We can look back on eight Pro Bowl seasons, four first-team All Pro and one second-team All Pro selections, defensive rookie of the year and defensive player of the year.  What a career!

See you in Canton, #54!