Why Brian Urlacher will be a first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com May 22, 2013 10:14PM
Brian Urlacher holds aloft the George Halas Trophy for the NFC Champion Bears.....Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman on the podium.....JON SALL/SUN-TIMES
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Age took its toll on Brian Urlacher, but history will repair that damage and then some. You can make your reservations for Canton in 2018 right now.
Urlacher will be there. He wasn’t the best Bears linebacker of all time — there’s only one Dick Butkus. Urlacher arguably rates somewhere between Bill George and Mike Singletary in the pantheon of the Bears linebackers. But so what? Theodore Roosevelt is no Abraham Lincoln. But he’s still on Mount Rushmore.
And like Teddy Roosevelt, who was only a top-10 president when his visage was carved on Rushmore in the late 1930s, but is solidly in the top-five today, Urlacher will see his legacy enhanced with time. A virtual lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the debate on the day Urlacher retired is whether he’ll be a first-ballot inductee. His sterling resume has put him in the discussion for that distinction. Time will do the rest.
For the next five years, we’ll be watching highlights of the magnificently unique skill set that made Urlacher an eight-time pro Bowl linebacker — Urlacher running from sideline-to-sideline to tackle a running back; Urlacher returning a Michael Vick fumble 90 yards for a touchdown; Urlacher returning a Brett Favre interception 85 yards for a touchdown; Urlacher stripping the ball to set up Charles Tillman’s interception in the Bears’ memorable and stunning miracle victory against Arizona in 2006.
While it’s not like he was Willie Mays on the 1973 Mets, Urlacher as a shadow of himself in 2012 will fade from our memories. But moments from that final season as an injured former superstar will still enhance the Urlacher legacy. At 34, he returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown and covered Chris Johnson — the fastest running back in the game — coming out of the backfield.
While Urlacher never won a Super Bowl, his legacy still will fare better than that of Singletary, whose most memorable highlight is of him stone-walling Eric Dickerson on a third-and-one play in the 1985 NFC championship game. It’s a great highlight of a great player making a great play, but it’s still a tackle.
Singletary has a rightful place in the Hall of Fame, but his reputation is holding firm at best. They’ll never say Brian Urlacher was the product of a great defense. Everybody knows Urlacher made the Bears’ defense great. As time passes, that will loom larger and larger in Urlacher’s favor.
In 2010, Urlacher was 13th in a Sun-Times ranking of the top 50 Bears of all time — behind fellow linebackers Butkus (3), George (6) and Singletary (11). If that were updated today, he’d likely be No. 9 — jumping ahead of Richard Dent, Mike Ditka, Singletary and Bronko Nagurski and just behind Dan Hampton (7) and Doug Atkins (8).
After a 13-year career, the only thing that could have tarnished Urlacher’s Hall of Fame credentials was a slow descent into retirement. He still had gas in the tank, but it wasn’t the high-grade stuff he was running on in 2005, when he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. I’d say he made the right decision, but I don’t think Urlacher cares much about the Hall of Fame. He loves football and being a teammate more than his legacy, which makes Wednesday’s announcement surprising.
If I’m a team that might need a linebacker in August, I’m keeping his number handy. By the start of training camp, it might not take too much to persuade Urlacher that playing for somebody other than the Bears is not such a bad thing.