Bears

54 reasons former Bears great Brian Urlacher made it to the Hall of Fame

From those who know Brian Urlacher best, here are 54 reasons — stories, traits and factoids — why the former linebacker great will become the 28th Bears player enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night:

1. “I hate when people say this,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said, “but it’s difficult to put into words.”

2. “Let’s say you just started drawing up a middle linebacker, molding a middle linebacker,” said Lovie Smith, the Bears’ coach from 2004-12. “Size: how about 6-4? How about 250 pounds? How about less than 10 percent body fat? He’s got hair right now — but bald head. Fast. Tough. You check off every box.”

3. “No. 1 is he’s one of the all-time best playmakers at the middle-linebacker position,” said former Bears assistant Bob Babich, who will be Urlacher’s presenter. “His skill set changed how the ‘Mike’ linebacker was looked at.”

Brian Urlacher will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. | Sun-Times

4. “Short of winning a Super Bowl, he fits every category you’re looking for in a Hall of Famer,” said former linebacker Lance Briggs, who played alongside Urlacher from 2003-12. “He’s got the numbers. He’s a leader.”

5. In 2005, he became one of only two Bears, joining Mike Singletary, to be named Defensive Player of the Year.

6. He is an eight-time Pro Bowl player and four-time All-Pro who totaled 41½ sacks, 22 interceptions and 90 passes defended from 2000-12.

7. The Bears have had six winning seasons since 1995. Urlacher was
part of all of them.

8. Only 53 players — and two Bears, Walter Payton and Singletary — rank higher in Pro Football Reference’s approximate career value metric.

9. “He was the heart and soul of a darn good defense,” McCaskey said.

10. He preferred to run out of the Bears’ tunnel with his fellow linebackers than by himself.

11. “He was the best teammate ever,” Babich said. “I think that’s why he’ll go down in history as one of the best leaders of a defense that there ever was.”

12. “The joy he took from his teammates’ success,” McCaskey said. “How much fun he seemed to be having out there on the field. A big smile on his face when things were going our way.”

13. Watch Nathan Vasher’s 108-yard field goal return from 2005. “He throws three blocks by my count,” McCaskey said. “At one point, well into Nathan’s return, Brian’s behind him but he kicks it into another gear and gets ahead of the defensive back to throw another block to spring him into the end zone.”

14. A halftime speech and his late-game heroics inspired the greatest postgame meltdown in NFL history. “If you want to crown them, then crown their ass,” Cardinals coach Dennis Green bellowed in 2006, after the Bears rallied from a 23-3 deficit late in the third quarter.

15. In the career-defining Cardinals game, Urlacher stripped Edgerrin James, and Charles Tillman ran in for a 40-yard touchdown. The Bears credited Urlacher with 25 tackles. “It seemed like twice as many, providing the turnovers,” McCaskey said. Briggs put it simply: “He carried our team.”

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16. Urlacher led the Bears to their second-ever Super Bowl appearance in January 2007.

17-35. “Add these characteristics to the list,” Babich said. “Speed. Ball skills. Run fits. Tackling technique. Tackling production. Takeaways. Pass rush. Range. Communication with his teammates on the field. Understanding of offensive concepts. Length. Size. Agility. Toughness. Humility. Character. Coverage skills. A sponge for football knowledge. Confidence.”

36. “The closest, outside of [Briggs], that I’ve been around are guys that have one or two of the major traits,” Babich said. “But not all the ones Brian has.”

37. He was durable, missing seven games in his first nine seasons — all in 2004 — before sitting 19 times in his last four years. His 180 starts were four shy of Payton’s franchise record.

38. He was so dominant during New Mexico’s 1998 spring practice that first-year head coach Rocky Long created a hybrid safety-linebacker position for him — the Lobo — that lined up 10 yards deep. He led the nation with 178 tackles. “He had unbelievable physical gifts,” Long said. “But it was more about his attitude.”

39. Urlacher returned kicks and punts and played receiver in college, catching six touchdowns in 1999. Only when Urlacher reached 100 snaps in a game did Long limit him to defense. “I never coached anybody who had the flexibility he did,” Long said. “And he excelled at all of it.”

40. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2000 draft, Urlacher was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

41. Upon Smith’s arrival, Urlacher was the perfect fit in the Tampa 2
scheme. “The way he ran through the middle of the field,” Babich said. “To be that big and to be fast enough to have the skill set to break on balls — and his hands. Wow.”

42. Making plays,” said former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, who preceded Urlacher. “Doing things you don’t have to coach.”

43. “Brian isn’t one of those guys where a lot is unknown,” Smith said. “Everything he’s done has been talked about — and rightfully so. I would say most people know about him as a football player, but every time I talk about Brian, it’s as a man.”

44. “Size, speed, intelligence,” said Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who was on the staff when Urlacher played. “But more importantly, a great person.”

45. “He was a relationship builder,” said Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis. “When I got traded to the Bears in 2012, he was the first person I saw. He came up to me in the locker room and told me he was happy to have me there.”

46. “If you’re a teammate and you want to talk to someone, you talk to Brian,” Smith said. “You go to Brian’s house. He’s everybody’s best friend.”

47. “The guy was sitting on 10 acres,” Briggs said. “We’d go to his house and we’d play paintball. It was an opportunity to get closer.”

48. “He’s a come to work every day, practice 110-percent guy,” Babich said. “I think the Chicago mentality — the Monsters of the Midway — he fit right in.”

49. “[Fans] love that,” Briggs said. “Nobody wants the diva, the guy that has to be pampered. A jerk . . . as a long as the jerk is justifiable, they get it.”

50. “He knew which buttons to push,” Smith said. “When you’re the leader of the team on the defense, you need to get after guys a little bit. No one ever got upset at Brian for chewing at them for something they did wrong.”

51. “When we initially got our meetings started, we talked about the tradition of this team and where it’s been and where we want to go. . .” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s young enough for [today’s players] to know . . . how special he was.”

52. “No matter where you lived,” running back Tarik Cohen said, “you know about the monstrous figure that lined up and was the quarterback of the defense.”

53. “I fell in love with football when I was 12,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “Watching him, sideline to sideline, he could cover, he could hit the offensive lineman, come off the block and make the tackle. He was the epitome of what an inside linebacker was in the NFL.”

54. “He continued the grand tradition of Hall of Fame middle linebackers to the Bears, and that’s important to us,” McCaskey said. “He’s everything that you want a Bear to be.”

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