Ray Lewis isn’t the only linebacker in the Class of 2018 to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first try. Brian Urlacher joins him, and it’s easy to see why: He wasn’t just the best player on the Chicago Bears. He was on the best players in the history of the Chicago Bears.
“Brian Urlacher was everything you wanted a linebacker to be,” former Bears’ coach Lovie Smith told the Chicago Tribune. “The Chicago Bears should have a player like that. And they did.”
Urlacher could do it all — rush the quarterback, cover the field from sideline to sideline, plug the middle of the defense, drop into coverage, play offense, serve as a team leader. You name it, he did it — even catching a TD pass from holder Brad Maynard on a fake field goal in a come-from-behind defeat of San Francisco.
And now he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here, then, are five moments in the history of one of Chicago’s great middle linebackers that got him to Canton.
The Rocky Road
After failing to gain a scholarship from Texas Tech, Urlacher attended the University of New Mexico, where he languished on the bench two years … or until Rocky Long was hired as head coach. Long quickly recognized the talent and versatility of Urlacher and used him in a variety of roles on offense and defense. His biggest move, however, was to convert Urlacher to what he called a “Lobo-Back,” a cross between a safety and linebacker in New Mexico’s 3-3-5 scheme, and the switch worked so well that Urlacher led the nation in tackles his junior season with a school record 178 and finished his career with the third most stops in New Mexico history. Urlacher later became the first individual inducted into New Mexico’s Football Wall of Fame and had his number 44 jersey retired in 2013.
The Bears’ first-round draft pick in 200o, Urlacher started out as Chicago’s strong-side linebacker. But his career at that position was over almost before it began, with the struggling rookie benched after his first start. And benched he might have stayed had not middle linebacker Barry Minter missed Game 3 with an injury. Enter Urlacher, and the rest you know. The Bears would finish the season at 5-11, but don’t blame Urlacher. He was so good, finishing with a Bears’ rookie record for sacks and tackles, that he was honored as the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Controlling Michael Vick
Not many defenders could keep up with the Falcons’ rookie quarterback in 2001, let alone tackle the guy, but the 6-foot-5 Urlacher was the anomaly. In an Oct. 7, 2001 game vs. the Falcons, the Urlacher-led Bears held Vick to 18 rushing yards, with Urlacher picking up a sack, eight tackles, a forced fumble and a return of one of Vick’s fumbles 90 yards for a touchdown. The Bears would go on to finish 13-3, their best record since 1986, and Urlacher was a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Urlacher also would go on to a 5-0 record vs. Vick in his career.
The Bears’ 30-12 defeat of Atlanta in the 2011 season opener wasn’t one of the franchise’s most memorable victories, but it was one of Urlacher’s. He led a defense that sacked Matt Ryan five times that day, with Urlacher pulling down 10 tackles and one of his 22 career interceptions. But that’s not what made the game special. This is: It was the last time his mother saw him play, with Lavoyda Lenard watching him on TV in Texas. She sent her son a text afterward, then died suddenly the following day at the age of 51. Urlacher paid to keep his mother’s cell phone on so he could hear her voice until the phone company eventually disconnected the line.
He is who we thought he was
Call it the “Crown Your Ass” game. Losing coach Denny Green basically did in an October, 2006 rant, and it was one of Urlacher’s best performances ever. Not only did he produce a career-best 25 tackles but it was his forced fumble that produced Charles Tillman’s game-winning touchdown to complete a 20-point second-half comeback and a 24-23 defeat of Arizona. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time in Bears’ history the team won a game where they trailed by 20 or ore points in the second half, and credit Urlacher. “He just turned into the Incredible Hulk the last four minutes of the game,” said former teammate Devin Hester. He also turned into the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.