Brian Urlacher will be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day, and it's OK if it's not on the first ballot. There's a chance he will be a fist ballot guy, but if he isn't, it's nothing to gnash your teeth over.
Many Bears fans want to bang the drum for Urlacher's first ballot candidacy, and I get that, but in reality the only difference in being elected on the first ballot and not, is the bio line that reads, "First Ballot Hall Of Famer". If you make it into that select company it's a special day.
The latest Chicago Bear that went into the Hall was defensive end Richard Dent, who was elected in 2011, fourteen years after he retired. Dan Hampton was elected twelve years after he retired. Mike Ditka was part of the 1988 Hall Of Fame Class, and he retired in 1972. Are their Bears' legacies any less than that of first ballot inductee Mike Singletary?
When ever I think about a players Hall Of Fame credentials, in any sport, the first thing I consider is; Was he one of the very best at his position for a decade? Was Brian Urlacher one of the best middle linebackers in the game during his 13 years? The answer is an emphatic yes.
Brian Urlacher may not have been the premier middle linebacker in the NFL during his 13 year career, but he was definitely in that conversation. Urlacher himself gives the honor of best MLB in his era to Ray Lewis, and I tend to agree. Regardless of your personal feelings about Lewis, he was an exceptional football player. Sure he played the game with a theatrical flair, and his pre-game dance took on life of it's own, but he was damn good between the lines.
The second half of Urlacher's career, the best inside linebacker was probably San Francisco's Patrick Willis, who has never missed a Pro Bowl in his six year career that began in 2007. He's another outstanding football player, and when Urlacher was missing Pro Bowls from 2007-09, it was Willis that was talked up as the best inside backer in the NFC.
The only Pro Bowl that Urlacher missed in his first seven years in the league was 2004, when he only played nine games. An injury robbed him of what probably would have been another Pro Bowl that year. In 2007 the Bears' record dipped after their Super Bowl, and Urlacher missed the Pro Bowl even though he had an outstanding statistical season.
The Bears missed the playoffs again in 2008, and Urlacher again missed the Pro Bowl. Then in 2009 he went down with a season ending wrist injury in the week one game against the. Many experts figured this was the beginning of the end for Urlacher. It wasn't.
In 2010 Urlacher not only returned to the field, but he was named to the Pro Bowl for a 7th time, then he made it an 8th in 2011. Last season he valiantly tried to play, but it was clear the injury he suffered in the week 17 game of 2011 was too much to overcome.
He had moments of the "old" Urlacher last year, but he just couldn't fully recover from his knee injury. Then a hamstring injury ended his 2013 season prematurely.
In total, he had those eight Pro Bowl nods, he was named 1st team All Pro four times, one 2nd team All Pro, a Defensive Rookie Of The Year award, and a Defensive Player Of The Year award. The one thing missing from his resume was the Super Bowl ring, and unfortunately some voters will hold that against him. Those voters will be idiots, but that won't stop them.
Another often talked about knock on his career, was his perfect match for the Lovie Smith Tampa 2 defense. The old cockamamie "product of the system" argument. If you were to build a Tampa 2 middle linebacker from the ground up, he would be Brian Urlacher. His speed and coverage ability was tailor made for that defense, but it baffles me that some conveniently forget that he was a four time Pro Bowler before Lovie Smith was hired to coach the Bears.
Urlacher thrived in the Dick Jauron version of the 4-3 that had those two behemoth defensive tackles in front of him eating up the middle. During these years Urlacher was playing a different game entirely. He wasn't concerned with the middle third in pass coverage, he was playing more of an attacking role as the mike backer. Two of his three highest tackle totals came during the Jauron years, as did more than half of his career sack totals.
Brian Urlacher is a player that would have thrived in any scheme, and at any linebacker position. He had the speed to be a 3-4 pass rushing OLB or a 4-3 weakside OLB, and he had the strength to play the strongside in a 4-3.
The other argument against him that pops up from time to time is that he may not even be the best linebacker on his team. Former teammate, and current Bear Lance Briggs, was named to seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 2005-11, and he is a damn good linebacker. But using him as an argument against Urlacher's Hall worthiness is just asinine. Playing with good talent doesn't diminish what one player can do.
Ray Lewis played with players that were voted into 36 combined Pro Bowls during his 17 year career, and Urlacher had 20 such players named during his 13 year career (Briggs' 7 is the most, and Tommie Harris is next with 4). Mike Singletary played with two other Hall Of Famers on his defense, and that didn't stop Hall voters from electing him.
Brian Urlacher was one of the most physically gifted linebackers to ever play in the NFL. He was also one of the most cerebral players to ever play his position. He was a leader of his team and the face of his franchise for his entire career.
Wearing the yellow jacket that signifies pro football greatness is a special honor that few ever receive, and in my opinion Brian Urlacher deserves to be there, and he will be there. But don't take my word for it, here's what a couple of the quarterbacks that he matched wits with had to say.
Peyton Manning, his opponent in the 2006 Super Bowl said, "It's a no-brainer when it comes to Brian having a Hall of Fame career." and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, "Brian was the ultimate competitor, leader, and a no-doubt Hall of Famer,".
Urlacher was a playmaker, a game changer, and he was at the top of his game throughout the majority of his career. Exactly the type of legacy that will get someone into Canton.
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