Brian Urlacher retires as two of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.
He will receive the one customary bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the time comes, but he deserves another, and here’s why:
He was asked to completely change his All-Pro game, and even though he hated the change, he continued to excel at an All-Pro level.
When Urlacher joined the Bears, he was tried at several positions. Then-coach Dick Jauron and then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache finally figured out he was a middle linebacker.
And then he became THE middle linebacker.
He played behind almost 800 pounds of defensive tackle, and everything was set up for Urlacher to make the tackle. And geez, could he ever tackle. He blew up people. Several body parts have not been found.
When teams tried to run away from Urlacher, he ran them down. Nobody was better sideline-to-sideline. He could catch anyone and everyone, and I mean everyone. Michael Vick entered the league and ran the NFL crazy. He was an athletic freak.
Urlacher out-freaked him, becoming worthy of a prime spot on the Bears’ Mt. Hitmore.
Then things changed. Jauron and his traditional 4-3 defense were replaced by Lovie Smith and his version of the Tampa-2. The Bears’ aggressive style was turned around. Drop to landmarks. All eyes on the quarterback. Everything stays underneath.
Urlacher said he didn’t like that style. It wasn’t his way. It wasn’t what he was doing better than anybody in the league.
But he did it. He didn’t just follow, he led. After earning All-Pro twice in Jauron’s style, Urlacher earned such honors two more times under Smith.
The undertackle, the strong safety and the weakside linebacker are critical spots in the Tampa-2, but the Bears’ version regularly challenged to be the NFL’s best defense because of Urlacher. The Bears' Tampa-2 defense worked because of his spectacular athletic skills. If Urlacher had not been able to attack the line of scrimmage while also turning to cover downfield 40 yards, the Bears would’ve been picked apart.
Then came the injuries that robbed him of his magnificent athleticism. He couldn’t be that guy anymore. He retired Wednesday as one of the NFL’s greatest players.
Check that, two of the NFL’s greatest players.