Brian Urlacher has an argument for being the greatest linebacker in Chicago Bears history. One must understand how crazy that is. It’s a legacy that includes Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Bill George. Oh and now Khalil Mack too. This is a testament to how insane of an athlete he was and the leadership he embodied throughout a Hall of Fame career.
Now the man turns 41-years-old today. Could he still be playing if injuries hadn’t struck when they did? It’s a serious question. That’s how talented he was. That even at such an age he’d probably still be better than two thirds of the linebackers playing right now. Sadly it’s not the case. So rather than ponder what-ifs, it is best to celebrate his memory.
Here are seven things that best encapsulate his career from epic games, moments, and entire seasons. Per usual, it’s best to start from the beginning.
Brian Urlacher and his historic Rookie of the Year season
Keep in mind that Urlacher had never been a middle linebacker before in his football career. It was uncharted territory that took a lot of guts for the Bears to put him there. How did he respond? By setting records. Urlacher had 125 tackles, a mark that still hasn’t been topped. He added eight sacks and two interceptions for good measure. It earned him Rookie of the Year honors from the NFL despite his team only going 5-11. A testament to his dominance.
His welcoming of Michael Vick to the NFL
Michael Vick was the #1 pick in the 2001 draft. He’d eventually become one of the most explosive athletes the NFL would ever see at quarterback. He terrorized defenses. One guy he never scared was Urlacher. The linebacker set the tone early in 2001. Vick was forced into a game against the Bears off the bench. Urlacher not only sacked him once but also returned his fumble for a touchdown in a 31-3 crushing of the Falcons.
His Defensive Player of the Year campaign
In terms of pure stats, the 2005 season was not Urlacher’s most prolific. However, it was evident to all who watched that he was the best player on the field every single time he stepped foot on it. He was literally everywhere. He made 121 tackles, got six sacks, and deflected five passes. He also captained the #1 defense in the NFL. A defense that allowed more than 17 points just twice over their final 12 games.
His Monday Night game in Arizona
While 2005 may have been his signature season, his signature game came the next year. The Bears were undefeated through five weeks. Most were starting to think of the Super Bowl. Then on Monday Night in Arizona, they were belted in the mouth early. The Cardinals jumped out to a 23-3 lead by the second half. Unwilling to accept that, Urlacher donned his Superman cape. He made 25 tackles in the game along with a momentum-swinging forced fumble for a touchdown that cut the lead to six. The Bears won 24-23.
His lost Pro Bowl
Urlacher went to eight Pro Bowls in his career. Not a lot of linebackers can make that claim. However, it should’ve been nine. Follow this logic. He was Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Pro with this stat line: 121 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 passes defended. Yet two years later he delivers 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 1 defensive TD, and 12 passes defended. Yet he can’t even reach the Pro Bowl this time? It remains one of the forgotten travesties of his career.
His rescue of their hopes in the NFC championship
Chicago appeared dead in the water. Green Bay held a commanding 14-0 lead in the NFC championship. Aaron Rodgers had the ball in the Bears’ red zone and was looking for more. Another touchdown would all but seal it. The defense had to make a play. Something. Anything. Sure enough, Urlacher answered the call as he always did. He picked off Rodgers to keep the score 14-0 and the Bears in the game. Though they lost 21-14, his heroics game them a chance they never would’ve had otherwise.
His final pick-six
People were convinced Urlacher had lost a step by 2012. He never looked quite right after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in the season finale the year before against Minnesota. He was slower and didn’t move quite as fluidly. At that point he was more of a director of the defense than a true playmaker. Or so people thought. His pick-six of Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee was a fitting reminder that underestimating him was a perilous decision.