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The truth about Urlacher

On and off the field, there was way more good than bad with Urlacher

Dan McNeil

8:02 PM CDT, May 23, 2013

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Those of us in the opinion-making business are guilty of wanting it both ways.

We require our superstar athletes to dazzle us not only with their performances, but also fill our notepads with colorful quips. Then when a jock offers total transparency and says something we deem terse or disrespectful, we sour on them for not being more user-friendly.

So it went with Brian Urlacher, who in his 13 years in a Bears uniform exhibited both candor and kindness, but also was capable of being an uncooperative, disrespectful spoiled brat.

On and off the field, there was way more good than bad with Urlacher, who announced his retirement Wednesday after watching his phone not ring for the past nine weeks. It's the right move for the moody middle linebacker, who might not have been able even to pass a physical if an NFL team had extended him a contract offer with which he was comfortable.

While it wasn't completely Urlacher's choice, I applaud the soon-to-be 35-year-old for waving the white flag now and sparing us a 21st Century edition of Dick Butkus. The once-menacing Butkus hung around far longer than his body was capable. The No. 51 I saw play in the early 1970s was a mascot, not the formidable force who was so amazingly captured by NFL Films video shot in the '60s.

Many opinions have been given on Urlacher's place in Bears/NFL history, as well as whether his often-surly disposition should leave Bears fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Here are some things I believe to be the undisputed truth on Urlacher:

•Urlacher is the Bears' most dominant defensive player in franchise history.

Forget Bill George and everyone else who played in or shortly after the leather helmet era. Same with Butkus, who made his bones tossing around little white running backs on slower playing surfaces.

Urlacher played his position with ferocity and unparalleled speed. He changed games with key takeaways and willed his team to victory.

Mike Singletary? Not even the best linebacker on the woof woof Bears of the '80s. In the Bears' only Super Bowl title season of '85, both Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson were more impactful players.

•Urlacher's observation last season the Bears are the only team in the division with a fanbase that boos its own team was idiotic.

•Fans and media who chastised Urlacher last November for congratulating former teammate Danieal Manning after the Houston safety intercepted a Jay Cutler pass deserved Urlacher's middle finger.

One thing I always enjoyed about Urlacher was his boyish grin while on the "battlefield." A high five or knucklepunch is a harmless gesture representative of good sportsmanship.

•Before his third season, Urlacher voiced perspective and reverence for Butkus and Singletary at a black tie event called "Decades of Dominance," hosted by ESPN radio. "This is embarrassing," Urlacher humbly said to me backstage before taking his place on the dais. "I've done nothing to deserve being on the same stage with those guys."

•Urlacher's lowest moment at the lectern was when he waged war with local media shortly after a loss to the Lions in '07. His "Go to FoxSports.com" news conference was nothing shy of embarrassing.

•Urlacher was at his best against Green Bay. In Week 2 of the '04 season, Urlacher thwarted a Packers scoring attempt just before halftime, stripping the ball from Ahman Green. Mike Brown recovered and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bears a 14-3 lead. The underdog Bears upset Green Bay 21-10.

•When Urlacher underwent cervical spine surgery in the winter of '08, he demonstrated a sense of humor when he checked into Northwestern Memorial under the pseudonym "Dr. Richard Kimball."

•Urlacher's fling with Paris Hilton was the male version of "the walk of shame."

•In a television role as a talking head, Urlacher would be a decent hire. As a talk show host, Urlacher will fail as miserably as Cutler did last fall.

•Despite the accomplishments of the Raven's Ray Lewis (two Super Bowl rings, including an MVP performance in SB XXXV) Urlacher deserves to be in the Canton Class of 2018.

Lewis was the best ever at the position. Making Urlacher wait an additional year because he also played middle linebacker is the type of logic that should be reserved for baseball writers when they select for Cooperstown.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.