Sports media: Brian Urlacher isn’t on post-career path of other Bears greats
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If you went to a Bears game at Soldier Field during Brian Urlacher’s Hall of Fame career, you probably saw more fans wearing his jersey than any other. Even walking around town, you were bound to come across his No. 54, which was among the league’s top-selling tops for much of his tenure.
If you tuned in to a Bears game on TV, you might have seen him more than any of his defensive teammates. The way he played linebacker, he was all over the field, and TV producers and directors made sure to follow him wherever he went.
So it stands to reason that a player with such prevalence and talent would stay in the public conscience long after his playing days are over, especially in a city that has revered players with far less ability.
That’s the irony to the postscript of Urlacher’s career. His presence was felt everywhere when he played, but it hasn’t been since. And even with “HOF” next to his autograph, it might stay that way.
Urlacher was the Bears’ defining player for more than a decade. Such stature has kept other former players in the public eye. Hall of Famer Dick Butkus was part of Bears radio broadcasts on WGN in the mid-1980s and early ’90s. Even if you never saw his punishing hits, you might have heard his distinctive grunts on the air.
The late Doug Buffone, an all-time Bears great, was relevant to generations of fans who never saw him play because of his broadcast work. His rants on The Score’s postgame show were epic. Dan Hampton of the 1985 Super Bowl champs has a Bears postgame show on WGN and is on Pro Football Weekly’s TV show.
No one was more ubiquitous in this city after their NFL career than Mike Ditka. He had broadcasting jobs, sponsorship deals and even a weekly Q&A in this newspaper. He’s the epitome of what a former Bear can do.
But Urlacher has never embraced the limelight. After retiring in May 2013, he joined the fledgling Fox Sports 1 as part of its “Fox Football Daily” show. He wasn’t exactly a natural in front of the camera, and he resigned in September 2014 to spend more time with his family.
He returned to TV in 2016 on then-Comcast SportsNet with his own show, “Hard Count With Brian Urlacher.” It only lasted a season because the Bears were so bad (they were 3-13 in John Fox’s second season) and the media’s attention was shifting to the Cubs. But Urlacher showed more potential.
From 2015 to ’17, he had the weekly “Brian Urlacher Show” during “Waddle & Silvy” on ESPN 1000 (Tom Waddle being another former Bear still in the spotlight). The station was very pleased with his appearances and said he was great to deal with off the air. Urlacher’s relationship with the local media during his career tended to be frosty and selective.
Oddly enough, young Bears fans might identify Urlacher best as the spokesman for Restore, the hair-restoration business. He unveiled his new look in January 2016, and his billboards can be viewed all along the Tri-State Tollway and other thoroughfares. The intimidating, fierce-looking linebacker was replaced by a dapper, stylish gent.
Will that be his legacy? Will Urlacher be remembered as the Hair Bear?
Maybe he needs more time. Maybe he hasn’t found the right fit on the media landscape to become a broadcast personality. Maybe his personality isn’t conducive to it.
It will be interesting to see what path Urlacher takes after his Hall of Fame induction Saturday. Maybe he’ll give broadcasting another try or find a social issue to tackle. Perhaps he’ll take a path out of public view, and that would be fine. It’s just a path that other former Bears in his shoes didn’t travel.
Hall of Fame coverage
Chicago’s sports stations will be out in force this weekend in Canton, Ohio.
Two ESPN 1000 shows will broadcast from the Hall of Fame on Friday: “Carmen & Jurko” from noon to 2 p.m. and “Waddle & Silvy” from 2 to 6 p.m. Urlacher is scheduled to appear in the 5 o’clock hour.
The Score will have David Haugh on site for the “Mully and Haugh” show from 5 to 9 a.m., and Laurence Holmes will broadcast there from 6 to 9 p.m. Urlacher was on the morning show Thursday.
NBC Sports Chicago will have Bears reporter JJ Stankevitz providing coverage on TV and its digital and social platforms. He’ll be joined by Holmes, the network’s Bears game-day host.
Of course, this very paper will have columnist Rick Morrissey and Bears beat writers Patrick Finley and Mark Potash on location.
Kustok, Bowen raise profiles
Sarah Kustok, the former DePaul basketball player and CSN Chicago sportscaster, will make occasional appearances as a reporter for Fox’s NFL game coverage. Her first assignment is Titans-Dolphins in Week 1. Kustok is the game analyst for the Brooklyn Nets on YES.
Matt Bowen, who went to Glenbard West High School and played for four NFL teams from 2000 to ’06, will join ESPN’s “NFL Matchup” show, according to Pro Football Weekly. If you’re an X’s and O’s geek like me, the show is worth your time.