CANTON, Ohio — Brian Urlacher’s mission at his Hall of Fame enshrinement was to thank everyone who helped get him here, and many of them were in attendance Saturday night at Tom Benson Stadium for the enshrinement ceremony.
Coaches Lovie Smith, Ron Rivera and Greg Blache, teammates Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, Greg Olsen, Alex Brown, Julius Peppers and Roberto Garza and former Bears trainer Tim Bream were among them.
There was a void, though. Urlacher paid tribute to his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, who died at 51 in 2011, the last of Urlacher’s eight Pro Bowl seasons with the Bears.
“My real life hero,” Urlacher said. “My mother was the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. She always found a way to provide for the three of us. My mother taught me the importance of learning my way.
“Mother, thank you,” he added, the emotion in his voice rising. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today.”
On a professional level, though, one person in particular has been overlooked in the celebration of Urlacher’s grand achievement. Mark Hatley, the former Bears vice president of player personnel who selected Urlacher ninth overall in the 2000 draft, died of a heart attack at 54 in 2004.
The men who acquired the other 25 Bears players in the Hall of Fame are themselves Hall of Famers — George Halas and Jim Finks. But while Hatley is relegated to a footnote in Bears history, he at least deserves the posthumous honor of being remembered as the guy who drafted Urlacher.
“Yeah, ‘Hat’ was very instrumental in me getting drafted,” Urlacher said. “I was just talking to Greg Blache about that situation, how they worked together to get me to Chicago.
“He believed in me and obviously drafted me from a small school, kind of unsure of the level of competition I played at in college, and he realized I was a good athlete and might become something one year. The first year after I get there, he leaves and goes to Green Bay [in 2001], but he was very instrumental in my development my first couple of years.”
Amid growing dysfunction in the personnel department under team president Michael McCaskey, Hatley was hired as vice president of player personnel in 1997 after spending five seasons as director of pro personnel with the Chiefs. After his first two first-round picks failed to reach their NFL potential — running back Curtis Enis and quarterback Cade McNown — Hatley needed a hit. The Bears had gone six consecutive seasons without a position player in the Pro Bowl.
“Hat was really [big on Urlacher],” said Blache, the Bears’ defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2003. “He said, ‘Guys like this come along once every 15-20 years, that you get a guy who can run at his size and get the football and is a solid person.
“I can remember big arguments in the draft room the day of the draft. Offensive guys were pushing for [Michigan State wide receiver] Plaxico Burress. Hat and the defensive guys were pushing for Urlacher. And when Plaxico went [to the Steelers with the eighth overall pick], the defensive guys went, ‘YES!’ ”
Even then, Hatley didn’t get the credit he deserved. There were whispers that the Bears would have taken Burress if he was available and lucked into Urlacher when the Steelers took Burress.
“I don’t think so,” Blache said. “Hat was an Urlacher guy. If they were both on the board, we would have won. We’d have fought over it, but we’d have won.”
Urlacher became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Hatley was forced out in 2001 under murky circumstances typical of the Bears’ dysfunction. But he left a legacy. The surprising 13-3 playoff team under Dick Jauron in 2001 was comprised almost entirely of Hatley acquisitions. And Urlacher was at the forefront — on his way to the Hall of Fame.
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