By Jack M Silverstein, @readjack
11:36 AM CDT, May 23, 2013
I only interviewed Brian Urlacher once last season, but it was a good one. It was Nov. 9, a Friday, two days before the Texans game. The Bears were 7-1 and winners of six straight. They’d just mollywomped the Titans in Nashville 51-20, a game in which Urlacher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown. And this was a Friday post-practice locker room, always the loosest and rowdiest time.
I was interviewing defensive linemen for a feature on the d-line “Rush Men” unit and was between interviews when Matt Forte snuck into the locker room carrying a giant cardboard box over his head, tip-toe’d behind defensive end Cheta Ozougwu and slammed the box over Ozougwu’s head and shoulders, pinning his arms to his body.
This nearly caused a riot. Guys reacted as if Forte had steamrolled Ozougwu in a full-contact practice. I immediately decided that I had to learn more. But no one was talking. I kept getting the company lines: “We don’t talk about the box game with the media” or “Oh, it’s just something we do around here.”
Finally one defensive player talked. He laid out the basics: it’s a game where you try to box people up; the defensive line is like the Bad Boy Pistons (the best team) while Urlacher is like Jordan (the best player); because of that, there is a beef between the d-line and the linebackers, which resulted most recently in Israel Idonije leading a sneak attack on Urlacher in a stairwell. Boxing Urlacher was the team's latest pranking success story--someone even got it on tape, and Urlacher himself spoke candidly about getting boxed up with Robbie Gould on Gould’s interview show “The Final Horn.”
Anyhow, I was conducting the interview with this defensive player with my back to the exit, and all of a sudden the locker room was way too quiet. I turned around and saw that I was the last reporter there. So I asked Jared from media relations how much more time we had in the locker room. “Ten minutes,” he said.
“Then why did everybody leave?” I asked.
“Deadlines?” he said with a shrug. I turned back around to check the scene, and sitting at his locker now was Urlacher. He was talking to an equipment manager, comparing various pairs of cleats.
At this point, the only contact I’d had with Urlacher were a few questions during his pressers throughout the season. The guys who do regular press conferences—Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Urlacher, Lance Briggs in 2012--don’t have to talk in the locker room, and when Urlacher is in the locker room with the media, he tends to keep his conversations friendly, be it chatting with teammates, team staff or even a few reporters with whom he has a rapport.
But shit, I thought to myself, I had a nibble on this box game thing, and Urlacher seemed at the center of it. No harm in saying hello and broaching the subject. Plus, this was my best chance to have any kind of one-on-one with Urlacher, easily the best Chicago Bear of my generation and a man beloved by his teammates. It seemed like every player--no matter his position, age or year on the team--had an Urlacher story he wanted to volunteer. They marveled at his complete knowledge of the defense, how he knew every player’s assignment and seemed to know the opponent’s plays too. They talked about how they wished to meet his standards and follow his example, and how strenuous yet rewarding it was to actually do so. They talked about his kindness, his humor, his pranks, his desire to win all competitions, his teaching and the way he set the standard for personal interaction among teammates, coaches and team staff.
I’d seen that too: Urlacher talks to everyone at Halas Hall, from teammates to coaches to reporters to cafeteria staff to trainers to the masseuse to kids visiting with their grandparents. He’s a “Hiya!” guy--friendly, outgoing, and inviting.
“Excuse me Brian?” I said. “Hi, I’m Jack Silverstein. Got a minute?”
“I don’t usually talk to the media on Fridays,” he said, pausing oddly and making a slow “buuuuuut” face, “but uh, yeah sure.” I pulled out my tape recorder. “You might not like my answers,” he said, “but go ahead.”
At first, it was a short interview: like his teammates, Urlacher wanted to keep “box him up” off the record. But I’d obtained inside knowledge, and despite his best efforts to pretend he didn’t care, I’d piqued his interest. He ended the interview, and I turned off my tape recorder and asked him how he was feeling, and we talked a bit about his health, but somehow he steered the conversation back to his “most career box-ups.” The locker room was nearly empty now--me and Urlacher, Idonije, Charles Tillman, Jeff Joniak, Jared from media relations and an equipment manager named Joe. I turned the tape recorder back on and continued asking questions ...
... and for the rest of the story, the audio file plus the transcript below will suffice. This was just such a fun piece of tape that I thought it had to be shared in honor of his retirement. But it was also a good example of what made Urlacher so popular at Halas Hall: he is a dedicated leader in all team activities, an intuitive team-builder. He has a talent for getting people excited for group activities, for making them feel included, for making them laugh, for getting them focused, and for getting them to want to learn more or work harder. Those qualities were evident in every interaction. Though I expect nothing less from the all-time leader in box-ups.
BRIAN URLACHER AND THE BOX GAME, NOVEMBER 9, 2012
JACK: I saw everyone playing the box game--
URLACHER: Well that’s between us. I’m not going to comment on the box game with the media. Are you with the media?
JACK: I am.
URLACHER: Yeah, sorry man. (pause) Did somebody else comment on it?
JACK: A lot of them. The d-line. The d-line’s talking shit.
URLACHER: Yeah, well see, I don’t have an alliance with them, so I’m not going to comment.
JACK: That’s what I hear. I hear there’s no truce between the d-line and the linebackers.
URLACHER: Nope. Those [bleep] don’t play fair. So I can’t talk about it.
JACK: Don’t even want to shit talk them to get back?
URLACHER: Nope. I’ll do it to their faces. I don’t have to talk to the media to get to them. Losers. Thanks though.
[END OF FIRST RECORDING]
URLACHER: I’ve got the most career box-ups.
JACK: Are those stats official or unofficial like tackles?
URLACHER: Oh, it’s official. (pause) Which guy was telling you about this game?
JACK: I can’t give up my sources. That’s not how this works.
URLACHER: Come on now! Izzy wants to know because--it was somebody in your crew Izzy, that’s why.
IDONIJE: No way.
URLACHER: Was it a d-lineman? (pause, reading my face) Yes, it was a d-lineman. That’s why he asked me about our truce that we didn’t have.
IDONIJE: That’s a problem.
URLACHER: I agree. Which guy was it? (to Idonije) He’ll tell you.
IDONIJE: We’re just gonna accuse everybody.
URLACHER: No no, let’s ask him. Which guy was it?
IDONIJE: Let’s just accuse everybody and--
URLACHER: Come on man--no, no, we’re gonna ask him! I want him to say!
IDONIJE: Which guy?
URLACHER: What number? We won’t say.
IDONIJE: Oh, so now you don’t speak, huh?
URLACHER: All of a sudden you’ve got all these questions, and now you don’t wanna talk.
JACK: (stammering) Well, that’s uh, that’s against the rules.
URLACHER: No it’s not. You’re gonna have it in your article, right?
JACK: I guess that’s true.
URLACHER: There you go. Which guy?
JACK: Will you tell me a little bit more about your end on it?
URLACHER: My most career box-ups?
JACK: Tell me about the box-ups.
URLACHER: I already told you I guess. No, I don’t really care who told you. (laughs) I don’t talk about boxing people up. I just do it. (laughs) I got the most career box-ups, man! I’m good at it.
JACK: How long has this been going on that you would have the ‘most career’?
URLACHER: Since we started. (laughter in locker room)
JACK: Thank you. Thank you.
IDONIJE: Good answer!
JACK: Brilliant. Brilliant deflection! I see you’ve been working with the media for quite some time.
URLACHER: You’re not my first time. Oh, I don’t know, probably five years.
TILLMAN, in background: Izzy--
IDONIJE: What’s up bro?
TILLMAN, motioning to Jack & Urlacher: (inaudible)
IDONIJE, to Tillman: Somebody’s been telling the media about the boxes!
URLACHER, spotting Melton walking into the locker room: Henry was it you??
MELTON, stunned: I haven’t even talked to the media!
URLACHER: Hold on though, hold on. You can’t box him up while he’s naked though.
TILLMAN: What did I box him up with?
URLACHER: I don’t know, but there are rules. No naked boxing.
Jack M Silverstein covers the Bears for RedEye.
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