Brian Urlacher, who ‘never got a chance to say goodbye,’ finds closure at Hall
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CANTON, Ohio — For the first time Saturday, former linebacker Brian Urlacher let Bears fans see the real him: his broken home as a child, his savior stepdad, the teammates he treated like brothers and the coaches he considered his father figures.
He saluted his wife, three children and late mother in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
He opened up publicly in ways he never did as the face of the franchise in 2000-12.
And then he provided Bears fans something he hadn’t offered since his awkward retirement: closure.
‘‘I never got a chance to say goodbye,’’ he said.
He did that — and so much more — when he became the 28th Bear enshrined in the Hall. He didn’t dance like Ray Lewis, detail suicidal thoughts like Brian Dawkins, recite poetry like Jerry Kramer or invite fans to a West Virginia mall like Randy Moss.
Rather, Urlacher’s words were much like his play: uncomplicated, exacting and fast.
He knew the magnitude of his speech, given in front of a record 22,205 fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. He choked up briefly only 75 seconds in — ‘‘Not yet,’’ he said to himself — and would do so again later.
‘‘This is my legacy moment . . . ,’’ Urlacher said near the end of his 19-minute talk. ‘‘Here it is: As a player, I just want to be remembered as a great teammate. That’s it. I want to be remembered as a guy who would do anything for his teammates and always go above and beyond for you.
‘‘To the guys who played with me or the guys who played against me, just know how much I respected the game. I may be one of the most competitive people you’ll ever know. I wanted to win every snap, every game, even though it’s not possible. But I didn’t just compete against the other person; I competed to be my best.
‘‘It wasn’t merely about the conquest; it was about the challenge.’’
Urlacher, the Bears’ all-time leading tackler, treated the speech as one, too. Never one to court attention, he worked with a vocal coach to try to curb his tendency to mumble. He was justifiably nervous, reading his speech quickly as he told his life story.
He detailed his hardscrabble upbringing but also the small joys of playing football, from the pre-snap chess match and banter to the camaraderie with his teammates. He mourned the loss of those daily interactions when he retired, saying: ‘‘Just like that, all the people in my life associated with the Bears were gone.’’
Many were back Saturday. Teammates and former coaches sat in a section in front of the stage, and fans packed the stands.
‘‘The best fans in the world,’’ said Urlacher, who rubbed the bald head of his bronze bust after seeing it for the first time. ‘‘Even when we stunk, they sat in their seats in Soldier Field, freezing their butts off, every time. And in case you don’t know, our fans know defense. . . .
‘‘I hope over my 13 seasons I made all of you Bears fans proud. Becoming a Bear was like playing for family. And to play my entire career with one team is a testament to the tradition of the Chicago Bears.’’
Urlacher didn’t try to separate his personal achievements from those on the field. They were one and the same, he decided, born of the same upbringing and drive.
‘‘For someone as competitive as I am, that victory means everything to me,’’ he said.