LAS VEGAS — Brian Urlacher allowed barely a fraction of a second between the end of an inquiry and the start of his response late last Saturday afternoon in a Circa ballroom gathering of about 200.
“I have no issues betting against the Bears,” he said, eliciting one of the event’s largest eruptions of cheers and claps. “No. If I see a line I like, I’ll fire.”
The gambling crowd appreciated Urlacher’s candor.
He revealed that, as a player, he never knew the meaning of “those pluses and minuses” — the point spread that designates a game’s favored team and underdog. A wife would open that world to him after he retired.
“What’s ‘plus-four’? I mean, I had no idea,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, now I understand it. Now I have no issue; if I like a game, I’ll bet it.”
He neither knew nor cared that the Colts were favored by seven against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, which Indianapolis won and covered 29-17. Quarterback Peyton Manning surgically dismantled the Bears.
“They knew what we were doing [on defense] on every single play,” said Urlacher, 44. “It was hard to trick ’em. They would check, we would check, they would check back to something different.
“It was very frustrating with that play clock. They’d get you to check, knowing exactly how much time it took them to get back to the proper play to beat your man defense or zone, whatever it was.”
Invariably, a funny thing happens whenever the Hall of Fame linebacker does risk money on the Bears.
“They find ways to screw me, somehow,’’ he said. ‘‘I try to stay away from their games. But if I like the line, I will bet against them.”
WE’RE NOT THAT BAD
Perched on tall stools, former NFL quarterback Shaun King, Circa Sports oddsmaker Chris Bennett and veteran betting scribe Adam Chernoff joined Urlacher under the spotlights.
At a lectern, Circa executive Mike Palm moderated the two-hour Circa football preview. The NFL and betting dominated, and Palm selected online questions from all over North America.
Most impressive, Circa owner Derek Stevens, who owns two other downtown properties, several times shuttled questions on index cards, from guests seated at round tables or standing rows deep on the periphery, to Palm.
For his hustle, Stevens, a Michigan native, suffered a jab or two from his star panelist about his beloved Lions.
Informed that the Bears had the longest odds to win the NFC North, Urlacher bristled. The Bears are +1850 (bet $100 to win $1,850) to win the division, looking up at the Lions (+1000), Vikings (+245) and Packers (-180).
Also at Circa Sports, the Texans are the longest shot (650-to-1) to win Super Bowl LVII, followed by the Falcons (400-1) and, at 300-1, the Bears.
“I don’t think we’re the third-worst team,” Urlacher said. “Dang. Behind Detroit, too [in the division]. Right? Dang, we’re not that bad.”
The crowd laughed.
“Minnesota, they’re usually pretty good,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, Green Bay. But I think we should be able to beat out Detroit.”
He glanced at Stevens:
More laughs. Stevens grinned.
Chernoff doubled down, calling the Bears the worst team in football.
“Worse than Jacksonville?” Urlacher said.
Chernoff said the Jaguars are trending up and called the Bears’ play-calling under former coach Matt Nagy “troublesome.”
Said Urlacher, “He went to the playoffs two out of four years.”
Chernoff countered that the conservative, defensive-minded approach of new coach Matt Eberflus is “not what you want in 2022.” He saw preseason issues with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
“Many signs don’t point in a good direction for putting [Justin] Fields through another scheme change,” Chernoff said. “So I have concerns about [the Bears], for sure.”
Bennett noted that the betting public “absolutely hates the Bears,” citing those aforementioned huge odds.
King tried to mitigate the onslaught, telling Urlacher that the Bears should have the most salary-cap space “after this terrible, atrocious season.”
Urlacher wasn’t buying.
“It isn’t a big draw, playing in that cold weather,’’ he said. ‘‘People love coming there.”
The crowd caught his sarcasm and laughed.
“Free agents. Yeah. Great,” he said.
Some of the questions Urlacher fielded weren’t gambling-related.
Asked about all that ails the once-proud franchise that has one winning season in the last nine years and a single playoff victory in the last 15 seasons, he sighed.
Since Lovie Smith, for whom he relished playing, the franchise is on its fourth coach in Eberflus. That’s no recipe for stability, Urlacher said.
Neither is frittering away first-round picks. After six seasons, the Bears released cornerback Kyle Fuller in March 2021. Three days later, he signed with the Broncos. This year, he’s in Baltimore. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky will start in Pittsburgh.
“It really frustrates me when we get rid of guys in whom we invested time and draft picks, and we do that quite often.”
Roquan Smith, the stellar linebacker out of Georgia selected in the first round in 2018, sat out much of this preseason before electing to suit up for a final contract year.
Urlacher touted him as the team’s best defender, maybe it’s best overall player, and recommended forking over a fat extension: “He’s earned it.”
He sounded as if it would be sacrilege for the Bears to ever consider playing indoors, saying, “That would hurt my feelings.”
A dome, however, might be inevitable as the franchise explores options — which could include playing host to a future Super Bowl indoors — in Arlington Heights.
Soldier Field makes no sense to the team’s bottom line, Urlacher said, because the city reaps all the parking, concession and suite revenues. “And downtown Chicago is not as safe . . . that might play into it.”
Do former NFL players have an advantage, in retirement, betting on the games? Maybe, said King, who cited certain specifics such as identifying a live underdog.
“I wish,” Urlacher said. “I’d be a better bettor. I’ll have a good couple of [wagering] weekends, I think, every year. But it’s so hard.”
He glanced to his left at Bennett.
“I don’t know how y’all get those lines so close,’’ he said. ‘‘It drives me crazy when I bet, and I know I’m on the wrong side of it before they even start the game. But it’s fun for me.
“Not a lot of [ex-players] I know bet — maybe 10 or 15% — for fun like I do. I’m definitely not a pro at it. But I enjoy watching games in which I have money on the line.”
King believes most players “wouldn’t know what a ‘middle’ is.” If I have Team A +5 at one shop and Team B -3 at another, and B wins by four, I’ve successfully middled that game.
It might seem Urlacher would know about such tactics because brother Casey was involved in gambling shenanigans that would ultimately see him win a pardon from former President Donald Trump.
The two Urlachers, apparently, never discussed sports betting.
Asked to pick a team they expect to perform above expectations, Urlacher took the Raiders. King (who played at Tulane) selected the Saints. One that will under-perform? Urlacher tapped the Titans; King said the Bucs.
Both are playing Circa Survivor, with a $6 million prize pool. For $1,000, participants pick a team a week to win outright. That squad can’t be used again. The three Thanksgiving and Christmas games are weeks unto themselves.
One loss, adios.
Urlacher said he became intrigued with sports wagering a couple of years after he retired, around 2015, via wife Jennipher Frost, a former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.
After the event, he inked a few autographs, posed for a photograph or two. My interruption didn’t seem to bother him.
Does Jenn have a keen feel for the point spreads?
“I don’t think anyone understands the lines,” Urlacher said. “She dabbled in there, and I just started watching that stuff. It’s fun.”
They live in the Phoenix area, and Arizona legalized sports betting in September 2021.
“Oh, super-happy,” he said of that legislation. “Yeah, it’s neat. She started showing me how. That was it.”
Finally, does betting present a unique challenge to someone who so mastered the game?
“No, I just . . . it’s fun for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not trying to get rich off Vegas. It’s just nice to have something on a game you’re watching with no desired outcome, to have a little bit riding on a game. That’s all.”