Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Goodbye You Magnificent Bastard
It certainly didn't help that Urlacher's breakout game as a Middle Linebacker came against the Lions; 9 tackles, a sack and an interception later the Lions had somehow won the game 21-14 but I knew this wouldn't be the last I'd heard of Urlacher. Over the next few years Urlacher would grow into one of the NFL's most dominant defensive players while my beloved Lions rotated through an endless parade of ultimately ineffective men at the "Mike" position. Even as his skills wanned with age he still found a way to relentlessly torment my team; always one step ahead of our coaches and quarterback. I loathed Brian Urlacher and I loathed the Bears simply for having him while my team did not.
Today, Brian Urlacher retired from professional football. The hows and whys of the situation aren't all that important to me; Urlacher's recent injury history and his general belief that he was worth more than the Free Agent market was currently willing to spare were both common public knowledge. What I do find interesting however is my reaction as both a sports fan and a self admitted hater of all things Brian Urlacher; I was sad. This wasn't just a passing feeling either; I spent all day in my office pretending to do work while I looked up his stats, highlight videos and press clippings. Before long I realized that I was desperately trying to grasp the greatness of Brian Urlacher one last time before he slipped into the obscurity of NFL history and the anonymity of everyday life. I watched the career of an immortal Lion slayer pass before my eyes in a single afternoon and when it was complete I stood in awe of the man.
Brian Urlacher was good; actually he was "really, really fucking good" to be precise. The numbers are eye popping: 1,353 Tackles, 41.5 Sacks, 91 passes defended, 22 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 3 touchdowns speak to a career full of high-impact, game changing plays. His list of NFL awards is equally impressive: Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, 8 Pro Bowls and more importantly 4 All-Pro selections as a middle linebacker. The amazing part of Urlacher's career however is that somehow all of these statistics and awards fail to tell the whole story of Brian Urlacher. No to truly understand Urlacher's greatness one has to subject Urlacher's play to the eye test and then examine it in the context of football history. Brian Urlacher wasn't just a great middle linebacker, he was a prototype hybrid from the future set loose on the NFL in the year 2000. Urlacher was certainly strong, but it's his speed, positioning and borderline supernatural ability to diagnose pass routes that helped change the way NFL defenses operated.
Many people will use today's announcement to take swipes at what Brian Urlacher wasn't. He wasn't the greatest linebacker in the history of the Bears; that honor goes to Mike Singletary assuming he agrees to keep his pants on while accepting the award. He wasn't the greatest pure Mike linebacker of his generation either; it's a close race but I have to give Ray Lewis that honor by the threads of a bloody white suit. While he was widely regarded as a team leader, he lacked the flamboyant overbearing personality of a Lawrence Taylor or a James Harrison. Whether or not that counts as a strike against Urlacher is pretty debatable; my midwestern values prefer the strong silent type of leader to a guy who's always talking on television personally. Finally some folks will choose to remind us that by the end of his career, he wasn't really "Brian Fucking Urlacher" anymore either and that's a reasonably fair point. I don't feel that Urlacher hung on to the game too long but there is no question that in the end, football had used up most of his athletic brilliance already. The naysayers have more than enough ammo to shoot holes in Urlacher's Hall of Fame worthiness but it says right here he won't have to wait more than an extra year to hear the call from Canton.
-The Sportsball Chic