Urlacher deserving of 54-gun salute

But it wasn't just talent that made 54 special. Jauron talks about him being tough, smart, coachable and hard working.

Angelo has been around some great players, including Lawrence Taylor, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Peppers. He said 54 outworked all of them.

"Despite his gifts, he looked at himself like an overachiever," Angelo said. "He had a rare work ethic, very rare, that enabled him to maximize his gifts. Brian did whatever he could to be great. He was so driven. People see the Adonis physique and think everything came easy to him. But nobody outworked him. That's how he gained the respect and trust from his peers and his coaches."

He was as popular in the locker room as he was in the stands. When his mother passed away, teammates rented a plane to attend the funeral.

He always made it a point to befriend the guys on the fringes of the roster. When someone got cut, even a nobody, he could expect a call from 54.

He threw big parties at his suburban home and invited teammates to partake in food, drink, paintball, pool, cards and table tennis.

Fiercely loyal and protective, nothing rankled 54 more than criticism of his teammates. He readily would talk about his own shortcomings but could not stand to hear about those of a teammate who had many more of them.

He would have done anything to play, including hiding concussion symptoms and taking whatever kind of needle Dr. Feelgood had in his bag.

So even though 54 never was big on speeches, whenever he did have something to say it got so quiet in the locker room you could hear a wristband drop.

Yes, this was a leader.

And this was a worthy heir to the middle linebacker throne. The scepter has been passed from legend to legend.

Initially, people wanted him to be Dick Butkus. But he wasn't the same kind of intimidator as 51.

Rodgers recalled how competitive 54 was, but he also talked at length about how they teased one another good-naturedly during breaks in the action.

They always were trying to anticipate each other's checks at the line, which put them in a game-long chess match. He said 54 sometimes would make funny faces at Rodgers across the line of scrimmage. Rodgers made fun of him once after 54's voice cracked while calling a defense.

They also have had some laughs over the time Rodgers tackled 54 after an interception in the NFC championship game.

"He plays the game with a lot of class and professionalism," Rodgers said. "He does it the right way."

Like the old school guys, 54 didn't do dancing or trash talking, and he didn't wear jewelry.

His way worked.

He won defensive rookie of the year and defensive player of the year awards, and he has been to eight Pro Bowls. The only other players to accomplish the same are Steelers defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene, Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor and former Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.

So far in his career, he has 411/2 sacks and 22 interceptions. Only one other middle linebacker in NFL history, Ray Lewis, has as many of each.

CHICAGO

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