Brian Urlacher retires as he should — a Bear
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org May 22, 2013 11:22AM
Bears' Brian Urlacher walks off the field following the Bears loss to Green Bay in the NFC Championship Sunday evening in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 23, 2013 9:25AM
It could have ended better. Of course, it could have. Brian Urlacher could have retired after the final game of last season and received the send-off he deserved. No awkwardness. No hard feelings.
But Wednesday will do just fine. Wednesday was the day Urlacher announced his retirement, and all seemed right with the world again. When he and the Bears couldn’t agree on a contract in the offseason, he became a free agent, a man without a team, but that was just a technicality. You knew it, I knew it and I believe he knew it down to his bone marrow: He’s a Bear.
This is how he was meant to leave the stage, not as a broken-down linebacker playing out his career with another team, but as a Bear for life. What a sad sight we have been spared — Urlacher not just looking older and slower than the man we saw in his prime but wearing the colors of another team. You might as well have shipped the Picasso statue to Charlotte.
“I decided I didn’t want to play for anybody else,” Urlacher said Wednesday on ‘‘The Dan Patrick Show.’’ “I still have a ton of respect for the Bears. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but I played 13 years for one of the best franchises in NFL history. I’m very proud of that, and I’m happy I won’t have to wear another jersey.”
It means the memories we’ll carry will be free of the jarring image of a Chicago icon working for an enemy combatant. It was hard enough the last few years watching someone who clearly was not the player he once was.
And what a player he was.
After cold cash, speed is the official currency of the NFL. When Urlacher entered the league in 2000, his speed was breathtaking for a middle linebacker. If a blocker didn’t get his hands on him, forget it. He could run sideline to sideline better than anyone.
He didn’t look like a linebacker. He was 6-4, 258 pounds with a skinny waist and long legs. He might not have had Dick Butkus’ sneer, but he relished the physical contact and the, um, verbal interaction with opposing players.
He turns 35 on Saturday, meaning he has played football long enough. With all the research coming out about head injuries, the last thing a player wants to do is hang around too long and become a doddering, punch-drunk former fighter. Linebackers lead with their heads, missile-like. They don’t lead with their common sense.
With eight Pro Bowls in 13 seasons, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame. The only thing missing is a Super Bowl ring, but the lack of one is not his fault. He led some of the best defenses in the NFL. The failure was on the people who didn’t give him an offense he could be proud of in Chicago.
Wednesday was a happy day. Urlacher walks away from the game healthy, or as healthy as someone who played a brutal game for years can be. He won’t be Willie Mays playing for the Mets in his twilight years. We won’t have to watch him and wince at the shell of the player he used to be. The last couple of seasons have felt like that, thanks to all the injuries he endured. Urlacher without his speed is a sad thing indeed.
He said friends and family told him he still has some football left. Maybe he does, but not his best football, and he was smart enough to realize it. Either that or the silence from other teams made him realize it. Whatever the case, he said he was tired of working out. Think of it: Most of his life had been spent lifting weights, running, practicing or playing. A great life, for sure, but the sameness of it had to be oppressive at times.
Now he’s free. Oh, he’ll miss the game. But he’ll get used to his new life. He’s getting out while the getting is good, which is to say he’s walking away without a limp.
“I will miss my teammates, my coaches and the great Bears fans,’’ Urlacher said via his Twitter account. “I’m proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field.’’
It was our gain that there didn’t seem to be much interest in Urlacher on the open market. But it was his gain, too.
He’s a Bear. Always.