Is ex-Bears LB Brian Urlacher a Hall of Famer? Saturday, it comes down to math

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Brian Urlacher, left, is up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first ballot Saturday. (Sun-Times media)

Tom Cruze / Sun-Times

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Former teammates lined up all week to stumpfor Brian Urlacher before Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame vote.

Urlacher’s candidacy, though, will come down to more than praise from his former teammates and rivals. It will go beyond tackles and a Super Bowl berth and a NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. It won’t be boosted by the fact he was the face of the franchise.

Rather, it will come down to math.

When the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person selection committee gathers Saturday morning for a meeting that could stretch to eight hours, each player’s case will be presented by a media member that covered him.

The committee will whittle the list of 15 modern-era candidates down to 10 and then five. The final five will each be subject to a yes or no vote; 80 percent approval gets them a gold jacket and a ticket to Canton, Ohio, this summer. Urlacher, like the other finalists, will be waiting in his Minneapolis hotel room to find out whether he’ll be attending the NFL Honors, where the hall of famers will be introduced for the first time Saturday night.

There’s little doubt among voters, made up of media members from NFL markets, that Urlacher will get into the hall of fame —sooner or later. The hurdle for the middle linebacker, then, won’t be the final vote as much as it will be getting to the final group of five.

The most likely to reach the final five include former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis — generally thought to be Urlacher’s superior — as well as receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch will be seriously considered. There’s concern that the five offensive line candidates — tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca and center Kevin Mawae —could split the vote, which would help Urlacher.

“I think Brian’s a first-ballot hall of famer,” former Bears quarterback Josh McCown said Friday. “It’s a tough class with a lot of great players. At the end of the day, I know within that realm it’s cool to be acknowledged as a first-ballot guy. But I know there’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to be in at some point.”

The reason: his coverage ability helped coach Lovie Smith popularize the Tampa 2 defense, which required Urlacher to drop deep into coverage. That qualifies as revolutionary.

“There was a time when he was at middle linebacker in our Cover 2 system when he was 40, 50 yards downfield, covering receivers down the middle,” said Eagles special teams wiz Corey Graham, a Bears teammate from 2007-11.

Urlacher was the face of the franchise, he said — an honor typically bestowed upon quarterbacks.

“The guy is unbelievable,” Graham said. “He was the quarterback of our defense. He did everything you could ever imagine.”

Saturday, Urlacher will find out everything that was enough.

NOTE: The Bears will name former NFL player Donovan Raiola their assistant offensive line coach, sources confirmed. His brother Dominic played 14 years in the league and in 2014 was suspended one game for stomping on Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley


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