When you’re lucky enough to witness a Hall of Fame career from start to finish, it’s pretty easy to have more than a few definitive memories of a great player. For me, there are three that stand out from Brian Urlacher’s time in Chicago. The first happened on draft day 2000. Being the draft junkie that I am, I was, of course, locked in to see how it would all unfold. There were rumors of the Bears being interested in Plaxico Burress (how do you think that would have worked out with the string of bum QB’s that played in Chicago during the early 2000′s?) and an athletic freak named Brian Urlacher.
At the time, either player would have been a welcomed addition, but you knew the Bears would take the defensive player that could lead their defense for a decade. The speed, explosiveness and all around ability tantalized fans, and Urlacher quickly proved how easy his transition to middle linebacker would be… His 13 tackles and a sack in his first start as a rookie let you know Mark Hatley did the Bears a solid. Urlacher’s entire rookie season (165 tackles, 8 sacks and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award) provided a glimpse into the insane abilities he had to change the game.
He wasn’t just a tackling machine that benefited from having Keith Traylor and Ted Washington taking up space in front of him. He chased down backs sideline to sideline as if he was playing on artificial turf and everyone else was playing on the green mud at The Park District. Once Lovie Smith got to Chicago, you saw Urlacher’s game reach another level. His ability to cover tight ends, backs and receivers down the middle of the field is what made the ’05 and ’06 defenses go.
It was in that ’06 season where Urlacher had another signature moment. You guessed it, the Monday night game vs the Cardinals where Rex Grossman was either determined to show the country just how abysmal of a quarterback he was, or that he had a shitload of cash on Arizona.
How the Bears won the Dennis Green Game is beyond comprehension, but Urlacher’s 25 tackles (he was at the pinnacle of his game at that point) are a big reason why. That was the night that you became convinced that the ’06 Bears had a legitimate shot to go to the Super Bowl… Mental midget quarterback and all.
But all great careers come to this bitter stage. Would it have been a perfect story for the Bears and 54 to hammer out one more one year deal? Of course, but Phil Emery and Marc Trestman aren’t married to anyone on the roster that came before them… Hall of Famers included.
Was the one year $2 million contract/ultimatum insulting? Yes, but only if you refuse to acknowledge how NFL teams are divorcing themselves and setting a price for older and more injury prone players. Why invest in what someone once did for you instead of what they will do for you in the future?
“It wasn’t even an offer, it was an ultimatum,” Urlacher told the Tribune. “I feel like I’m a decent football player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face.”
54 tweeted “It was not a negotiation it was an ultimatum. Gonna miss my teammates.”
The simple fact is, the Bears didn’t think Urlacher could help them as an every down linebacker anymore. The new head coach even said as much. And even though he was indifferent to the fans, acted like a petulant child with the media more times than not, Urlacher is ingrained in this city’s sports history. Even the meatballs that once criticized him for “not hitting as hard as Butkus” have to admit it. There’s no denying his impact, even if he’s limping around in another uniform in September.
It sucks seeing your favorite athletes end up on other teams, but it’s going to become even more of a formality as teams learn to not overpay veterans that could end up killing your cap. Urlacher is no different than Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Ed Reed and countless others. At the end of the day (or your career), you’re nothing more than a number. Like The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase always said… Everybody’s got a price! The Bears had theirs for an aging/decaying player, and refused to fall for nostalgic feelings. It’s a cold and brutal business, and one that Urlacher knows better than anyone.