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Urlacher exits NFL stage quietly

He still wanted to play but evidently not at 2nd-rate pay so he fades away with no fanfare

Mike Mulligan

7:11 PM CDT, May 22, 2013

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Twitterwas launched in 2006, six years after the Bears selected Brian Urlacher with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 draft.

Jack Dorsey, the Twitter creator has said the name was chosen because he ran across a definition of the word that was a perfect description of the product: "A short burst of inconsequential information'' or "chirps from birds.''

In light of that definition, the fact Urlacher made a rare tweet at 10:03 a.m. Wednesday to announce his retirement from professional football seems more sad and depressing than the way it's being celebrated in some corners: Relief that we all will be spared the indignity of seeing Urlacher in a Vikings, Broncos — or for mercy's sake — a Packers uniform. Urlacher told sports yapper Dan Patrick later in the day that "I decided I didn't want to play for anybody else,'' but the Bears.

Life, of course, often is sloppy and messy and complicated, a far cry from the safety of myth, lore and legend. Maybe that's why we seek to build a more heroic narrative for our sports stars. The fact is Urlacher wanted to play this year, wanted to play enough to request a $5 million deal from the Bears, and felt good enough about his ability to play that he rejected what he called "an ultimatum'' offer from the team of $2 million for one year, with just $1 million guaranteed.

His plan at that point was to go into the free agent market and make a leap to greater glory elsewhere. Sadly, Urlacher wasn't destined to dance off into the sunset Ray Lewis-style with a bright Super Bowl ring on his finger. There were no real substantive takers for his services after the Bears made it clear they didn't really want him.

In a retirement statement Urlacher said he probably still could play, but "I'm not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that's up to my standards.''

A cynic might wonder if Urlacher's passion comes at a cost of $5 million a year. That's not the point. It's not all about money. The point of the money is that it creates power, it creates hierarchy. For an old warrior like Urlacher it helps to ensure his place within a team structure, especially with a new franchise.

Bears fans always may remember Urlacher as a throwback talent, a square-jawed, crop-haired power player in the middle of the defense. In fact, he was a prototype for a new age, a highly paid, face-of-his-franchise superstar paid enough in 13 years that a million or so dollars more couldn't sway him to play. Urlacher was a size/speed guy much better in space than taking on blocks and more adept in pass coverage than run stuffing. He was also a near perfect teammate if the definition of such a player is simplified to never pursuing your own interests at the expense of those of the team.

Urlacher was uncomfortable with accolades, always shared his success with teammates and worked tirelessly off the field to be a good friend regardless of circumstance.

There were plenty of missteps along the way. He grunted answers to the media for a full season because the treatment Lance Briggs received during a contract dispute upset him. When details of his messy personal life got out, Urlacher was offended by the manner in which the story was covered and stopped talking to some reporters altogether. Maybe his biggest gaffe came on WFLD-Ch. 32 late this season with an ill-advised attack on fans and media during an awkward effort to defend coach Lovie Smith, who was booed off the field after a loss to the Packers.

"Two of the people I don't care about, fans or the media," Urlacher said. "They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. It does bother me because those people don't know what they're talking about, obviously.''

Professional football is a tough, cold, brutal business. It's a sad fact Urlacher was a former Bear when he opted to retire. It would be neater and cleaner if that weren't the case — if everyone didn't have to witness, the exasperating ordeal of Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips pronouncing their desire for Urlacher's return, while insisting the decision wasn't theirs to make.

Maybe now there can be an outbreak of a quasi-peace between Urlacher and the franchise. The team planned to reach out to the player, but his retirement caught them unawares. The coaching staff and some members of the front office were on a tour of the Bourbonnais training camp when word broke. McCaskey later released a statement that captured Urlacher very well and included the linebacker in the "pantheon of team greats.''

It would be great to think of Urlacher's humble tweet as typical of a modest superstar — no fanfare, no parade, no one-day contract to retire from the team he served. Regrettably, Urlacher didn't leave of his own accord. The Bears effectively retired him first, and the rest of the league followed. Hall of Fame players don't usually go out that way.

It should take more than 140 characters and a link to a seven-sentence news release on something called WhoSay to call it a career.

"This is the way the world ends,'' the poet T.S. Elliot wrote. "Out with a whimper, not a bang.''

For Urlacher it was a burst, a chirp, a tweet and he's gone.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.