It’s never easy to say goodbye.
Unfortunately, Chicago Bears fans find themselves having to do exactly that with Brian Urlacher. After two months of hoping he would be back with my beloved Bears for another year or two before riding gracefully off into the sunset, news broke yesterday that this will not happen. Chicago wanted Urlacher back, and Urlacher wanted to be back with Chicago, but the two sides split over a money difference.
Brian Urlacher’s numbers speak for themselves. In 13 years with the Bears, he played in 182 games, amassing 1,353 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries, 22 interceptions, and five defensive touchdowns. He was the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year, was named to eight Pro Bowls, was a first-team All-Pro four times, and won the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year award.
But Urlacher’s impact on fans like me far transcends the numbers.
He has been with the Bears since 2000, when I was 11 years old. To me—and many others—Brian Urlacher is the Bears. I literally cannot remember a time when Urlacher was not a member of my favorite football team. I grew up living in Southern California and South Florida in the days before it was easy to follow your team from afar (thank you, internet!), and was lucky if I got to watch the Bears play two or three times a year. I also didn’t start following football seriously until around 2003 or so, when Urlacher was already established as the face of the franchise.
I moved to Chicago in 2006, right when Urlacher was in his prime and leading one of the NFL’s best defenses on a Super Bowl-bound team. I will never forget him matching Reggie Bush stride for stride down the length of the field in the 2006 NFC Championship Game, or intercepting hated rival Brett Favre and returning the ball 85 yards for a touchdown in a 2007 rout of the Green Bay Packers. These memories and many more will be with me forever, and I am sure the same is true for many other Bears fans.
I’m still trying to process the idea that Brian Urlacher will not be a Bear.
For over a decade now, the franchise has been defined by their dominant defense — with Urlacher at the helm — carrying a marginal (at best) offense. With Urlacher gone and moves being made to improve the offense, that identity is changing in a hurry. Objectively, I can look at Chicago’s recent track record and see that might be a good thing, but the fan in me is finding it hard to say goodbye to what I have known and loved for so long.
My greatest fear is that Urlacher ends up pulling an Olin Kreutz and settles for less money to go play elsewhere for a year (or part of a year in Kreutz’s case) before accepting the inevitable and retiring. It would feel wrong to see Urlacher in any uniform other than Chicago’s. I cannot stand the thought of rooting against Urlacher in a football game. Although this is extremely selfish of me, I truly hope Urlacher is unable to find a team willing to pay him what he wants this year. I want nothing more than for him to retire as a lifelong Bear, joining other Chicago greats like Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, and many others.
The first reaction of many fans will be anger directed at the Bears, especially after Urlacher dismissed Chicago’s offer of one year at $2 million as “a slap in the face.” Others will surely resent Urlacher for refusing to play for less than $3 million per year. Personally, I hold no ill will toward either party. They both have to do what they think is best for them, and in this case that means going in different directions.
Even as I struggle to bid my fond farewell, I can think back on Brian Urlacher’s career in Chicago and take solace in one thing. I had the privilege of watching an all-time great player, the second-best middle linebacker of his generation, play for my favorite team for 13 years. During that time, he provided consistently excellent play on the field without creating any problems off of it. I can’t ask for any more than that.
Thanks for the memories, Brian.