Bears’ peers honor LB Brian Urlacher at Hall: ‘Nobody did it as well as he did’
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CANTON, Ohio — Hours after Brian Urlacher wore Walter Payton’s No. 34 Bears jersey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame parade Saturday, chairman George McCaskey put on a navy T-shirt with the linebacker’s name and No. 54 on the back.
He wore the shirt, for which he joked he got a discount at the Hall of Fame store, to watch Urlacher become the 28th Bears player inducted into the sport’s most hallowed shrine.
“I got to watch a little of Bill George, a lot of Dick Butkus, all of Mike Singletary and all of Brian Urlacher,” McCaskey said. “And he belongs right up there with the best of them, continuing the great legacy of middle linebackers with the Chicago Bears.”
His former teammates certainly think so.
“He showed me how to be a professional,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who played with Urlacher from 2007 to ’10 before going to three Pro Bowls with the Panthers. “I can’t say enough of what an impact he’s made on my career and showing me at an early age what it meant to be a professional and what it meant to prepare to play at a high level.
“Nobody did it as well as he did.”
Charles Tillman knew that a long time ago. More than a decade ago, he had Urlacher sign a jersey that the cornerback hung in his basement. Now, he joked, he’ll have to take it out of the frame so Urlacher could write “HOF” next to his name.
Urlacher was never about taking the attention for himself, Tillman said.
“For him to have all the fame and the face of the team,” he said, “he made you feel like you were the star.”
Now Urlacher is.
“From the new guys to the veterans . . . you can’t say enough about the teammate that he was,” Olsen said. “He’s had as big an impact on my career as anybody I’ve ever played with.”
Lovie Smith, the Bears’ coach from 2004 to ’12, coached a morning practice at Illinois before flying to Canton. He walked in about 30 minutes before the ceremony began.
“We talk about football being a little bit more than just a game,” Smith said. “It’s about relationships. Brian and so many players I’ve been around are family.”
That’s why Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who served as Urlacher’s defensive coordinator from 2004 to ’06, made the trip.
“You know, I missed four of my teammates’ … ” Rivera said. “And I told myself, I gotta come. So when the opportunity to come and pay tribute to Brian and his career [came], I made sure I did it.”
McCaskey got a text message from Urlacher during Hall of Fame week. It was a picture of the linebacker standing next to the bust of the chairman’s grandfather, George S. Halas. Urlacher continued his salute to the Bears on Saturday morning with the Payton jersey.
“Saluting the greatest player of all-time,” McCaskey said. “Tipping his cap to all those that came before him.”
Now Urlacher, in the eyes of history, can join them.
“He belongs right up there with the immortals,” McCaskey said. “Joining a long list of great Bears, more than any other team.”
Minutes before the start of the enshrinement ceremony, Tillman was still in awe.
“He’s made it,” he said. “This is football royalty.”