Bears

Brian Urlacher ready to take his place among game’s greats, and in Bears history

CANTON, Ohio — Thursday night had turned into Friday morning when Brian Urlacher, surrounded by family and friends and listening to country star Lee Brice rock his Pro Football Hall of Fame party at the Onesto Hotel, received a tap on his shoulder.

Virginia McCaskey had just walked in the door, he was told. It was 12:15 a.m.

The Bears’ 95-year-old matriarch wanted to watch the entirety of the Hall of Fame Game before paying her respects to the former linebacker.

Urlacher went straight for the door to see her. She sat and stayed for almost an hour.

Brian Urlacher speaks during a SiriusXM Town Hall on Friday in Canton, Ohio. (Getty Images)

“Unbelievable,” Urlacher said. “She walked into the room and everyone was like, ‘Whoa. That’s George Halas’ daughter.’ ”

Ninety-eight years ago and mere miles away, the same Halas sat on the running board on a Hupmobile during the first meeting of the American Professional Football Association. Two years later, it would be renamed the National Football League.

The sport’s most hallowed ground would make its home in Canton because of that meeting. Halas was a member of the first class when the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in 1963. The building sits on George Halas Drive.

Urlacher will become the 28th Bears player, coach or executive in the Hall when he is enshrined Saturday night. The eight-person class will bring the Hall’s total to 318.

Eleven years after leading the Bears to a Super Bowl and six years after his awkward retirement, Urlacher will take his place among them.

He has never sounded so comfortable doing so.

“I feel like with my style of play and the way my mother raised me — my work ethic and the way the people in Chicago appreciate defense and hard-working people — no doubt I was born to play there,” he said.

He knew about Dick Butkus and Walter Payton growing up in New Mexico. He learned about Mike Singletary and Bill George after the Bears drafted him ninth overall in 2000 and gave him, for no reason other than it wasn’t retired, jersey No. 54.

“We have the best legacy of middle linebackers in football history,” he said. “It’s amazing. Our fans love defense, and they show that every home game, everywhere they go. They love their defense. It’s amazing. It’s a great tradition.”

Urlacher reveled in his new place in the football world Friday. He posed for a group picture with the visiting members of the Hall in the morning and hung on every word as Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, Butkus and others told stories during a luncheon.

“Never would have imagined I would be in that room,” he said.

Friday night, he received his gold jacket. Saturday night, he’ll be fourth in line to deliver his enshrinement speech.

“Games, I wasn’t nervous — I was excited,” he said. “I knew what I was doing on the football field. That was easy. It wasn’t easy, but I knew what to expect from myself. [On Saturday], you can’t measure how your emotions are going to be.”

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He’ll see, for the first time, the bronze bust that was carved after an eight-hour session with the artist months ago.

Those moments might fail to top the matriarch’s early-morning entrance to his party.

“That meant a lot to me and my family,” Urlacher said. “There were a lot of coaches [there] that coached for the McCaskeys over my tenure. Players. It was just a huge show of respect for me for them to come back.

“That was late for her. It was late for me.”

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