Breakup with Brian Urlacher was right move for Bears
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org March 21, 2013 9:50AM
URLACHER BY THE NUMBERS
Year G Tkl-Ast Sacks Int TD FF FR TD
2000 16 101-24 8.0 2 0 0 1 0
2001 16 90-27 6.0 3 0 2 2 1
2002 16 118-35 4.5 1 0 2 2 0
2003 16 88-28 2.5 0 0 0 0 0
2004 9 54-17 5.5 1 0 2 0 0
2005 16 98-24 6.0 0 0 0 0 0
2006 16 93-49 0.0 3 0 1 1 0
2007 16 92-31 5.0 5 1 0 2 0
2008 16 79-14 0.0 2 0 0 1 0
2009 1 3-0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0
2010 16 97-28 4.0 1 0 1 2 0
2011 16 86-14 0.0 3 0 0 2 0
2012 12 53-15 0.0 1 1 2 2 0
Totals 182 1,052-306 41.5 22 2 11 15 1
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:22PM
It was quite an impressive group of people who were throwing hosannas Brian Urlacher’s way.
Bears chairman George McCaskey said he hoped Urlacher would be back for the 2013 season, going so far as to say he would be heartbroken as a fan to see the future Hall of Famer finish his career with another team.
Team president Ted Phillips also said he hoped Urlacher would retire as a Bear. Coach Marc Trestman said he wanted Urlacher for the upcoming season.
With support like that the past few days, who needed an agent to negotiate a contract? It sounded as if all Urlacher required was a pen and something to wipe the slobber off from team higher-ups.
But something didn’t sound right. Or, to be more precise, something felt wrong. It all seemed too much, as if every time another bigwig expressed his undying love for Urlacher, the chances of his returning shrunk.
So when word finally drifted out Wednesday that Urlacher and the team were unable to come to an agreement on a contract, I can’t say I was surprised. The end had arrived, as it should have.
It’s the best conclusion to an uncomfortable situation for the Bears, who, while they might not have been sighing in relief at the breakup, should at least feel like they are moving in the right direction, which would be forward.
What else were the Bears supposed to say when reporters asked them about Urlacher’s future? That the man couldn’t run anymore? That very few, if any, teams were interested in signing him? That life would indeed go on, no matter how much they would miss their once-great middle linebacker? No. That would have been suicide in a town that sees a little bit of itself in Urlacher’s sharp edges. It would have been like taking a blowtorch to the Picasso sculpture.
Some will accuse the Bears of going the cheap route, because it’s such a well-traveled road with this franchise. But it will take a lot to convince me that this was about anything other than Urlacher’s inability to play the game of football at a high level. If you saw him try to move laterally last season, you know he’s not Brian Urlacher anymore. The Bears’ reported one-year offer of $2 million wasn’t an insult. It was a message that said, “We’re not thrilled about having to make an offer, so, you know, here you go.’’
If Urlacher could still play, the salary cap wouldn’t have been the obstacle the Bears have made it out to be.
I’m not a mind reader, but when general manager Phil Emery talked about Urlacher after a press conference introducing Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod last week, I had the distinct feeling he wasn’t sold on bringing the linebacker back. In a little more than a year on the job, Emery has struck me as someone whose rational side always wins out over his emotional side. In Chicago, the emotional side always votes for keeping the icon. You don’t kick an aging superstar to the sideline.
But the rational side, the side that’s in charge of building the best Bears team possible, had to know that re-signing Urlacher, who turns 35 in May, wasn’t the right thing to do. The rational side had to know that there were plenty of options at middle linebacker on the free-agent market.
The shame is that Urlacher’s departure should be more than a rundown of why the Bears didn’t sign him. He deserves better for a 13-year career and eight Pro Bowl selections. But that’s what the big business of sports does to athletes, the same as it always has, and in truth, Urlacher played a role in it ending like this. He could have taken whatever the Bears were offering or he could have retired. But he’s a proud man who is used to being at the top of his craft. You can’t turn that off. For a great athlete, there are few tougher things than being told you’re not what you think you are.
Ah, but the great memories. There was the 25-tackle game against Arizona in a 2006 Monday night game, notable not just for Urlacher’s ridiculous speed but for the Cardinals’ laissez-faire attitude toward blocking him. Arizona coach Dennis Green famously screamed afterward, “The Bears are who we thought they were!’’ And Urlacher was everything we thought he was and probably more.
He was a fiend as a safety in college, which meant that when he converted to linebacker in Chicago, there was no such thing as a fair fight in one-on-one battles with a running back or a tight end. The Bears’ ability to play Lovie Smith’s Cover-2 defense was predicated on the middle linebacker being able to drop back in coverage. Nobody could do it better than Urlacher.
That’s how we should remember him, and I think that’s how we will remember him. This doesn’t feel at all like the ugly falling out between the team and another of its transcendent middle linebackers, Dick Butkus. Surely Urlacher sees that there aren’t teams clamoring for his services, and surely he sees that one business decision doesn’t wipe out 13 years of history.
He bled for this team and for this city. He could be ornery on occasion, a little rough and snarly, but once he walked onto a football field, he was ornery, rough and snarly for the Chicago Bears. And that was more than enough for most of us.