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Former Bears LB great Brian Urlacher headed to Pro Football Hall of Fame

MINNEAPOLIS — Brian Urlacher was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday after a vote that took more than eight hours.

The face of the Bears from 2000-12 and one of the league’s premier middle linebackers during that time, Urlacher will be inducted in August.

Urlacher was a four-time all-pro and eight-time Pro Bowl player. He was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 2000 and the defensive player of the year in 2005. This year marked his first year of eligibility.

He wasn’t nervous — until Saturday.

Brian Urlacher played from the Bears from 2000-12. (Sun-Times media)

“I didn’t think it would stress me out, because this whole time I hadn’t thought about it …” he said. “But today I did.”

He waited for the knock on his door from the hall director David Baker — and realized once he came to the door he’d mistakenly left a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob.

“Luckily for me it went the way I hoped it would,” Urlacher said.

When Urlacher made the cutdown from 10 to five finalists Saturday, he cleared perhaps a bigger obstacle than the 80 percent vote needed to reach the hall. Many hall voters thought Urlacher was worthy, be it this year or next. He was joined in the modern-era class by another great inside linebacker, the Ravens’ Ray Lewis; receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens; and safety Brian Dawkins.

“I think he’s the smartest player that I’ve ever played against,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Saturday before the league’s NFL Honors ceremony. “No one has played the position like he did, with the freedom to check in and out of coverages. And then obviously, the talent is second to none. A guy that fast, that athletic, and with those instincts ….”

Former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said Urlacher’s size, explosiveness and football knowledge made him elite.

“He wasn’t just a typical jock that could run, jump and cover,” Tillman said. “He was actually smart and he studied his film and he knew his plays, he knew how to get the defense lined up. He was smart as hell. That was one thing I really didn’t really get. When I came into the league, I was just going off of talent. He was a guy that going off of talent and his football IQ. He was the whole package.”

Fiery, too.

“He was a guy you didn’t want to piss off,” Tillman said. “I’ve gotten cursed out by Brian many a time, and when you piss him off in that huddle, he’s just yelling at you. … Then you go on the sideline, and he’ll apologize. … It was one of those things like, you let your big brother down.”

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who played for the Bears from 2007-10, treated people well.

“I think the best thing I can say about Brian is, he treated everybody in that organization, from the quarterback all the way down to the ticket guy, the exact same,” Olsen said. “He made everybody feel special. he was the ultimate leader. I can’t say enough about what he did for me personally, and so many other guys.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person selection committee met early Saturday to decide whether Urlacher, and 14 other modern-era finalists, were worthy of induction. They whittled the list to 10, and then five. The final five each faced a yes-no vote, with an 80 percent approval rate needed for induction.

Urlacher will be the 28th Bear to be enshrined in the Hall.

The Packers’ Jerry Kramer and the Oilers’ Robert Brazile, senior finalists, are heading to Canton, Ohio, too, as is former Redskins and Chargers GM Bobby Beathard.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com