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Legendary Linebackers: Urlacher & Lewis

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NFL middle linebackers Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis will be forever linked as two of the best linebackers of the 21st Century, maybe even two of the best football players of all time.

Urlacher has manned the middle of the Chicago Bears defense since 2000; Lewis has held down the Baltimore Ravens defense for the last 13 years. Both men taking their defenses and teams to the top of the NFL ranks.  Numerous awards and accolades have been dished out to the two superstars. The total number of tackles between them running well into the thousands.

Many great athletes have put on a helmet and shoulder pads to play linebacker in the NFL. Names such as Ray Nitschke, Sam Huff and Jack Lambert are all mentioned when discussing the greatest linebackers in history. Of course, when talking about linebackers two former Bears players are always in the conversation; Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. Because of the rich history of the position within Chicago, Urlacher has had much to live up.

When looking back over the NFL’s last 10 years, only a few linebackers may be worthy of having their bust displayed in Canton, Ohio.  Players such as Junior Seau, Derrick Brooks and of course the two subjects of this article.

Though Urlacher and Lewis play the same position, they are asked to do very different things for their team. Lewis, the emotional leader, stares down the opposing quarterback and is ready to pounce on anyone in a different color jersey. Urlacher, the prototypical linebacker for a Cover 2 defense, runs as fast as any player on the field and has the smarts to call his own defensive plays. No matter what they bring to the table, each of these men eat. Both are asked to do different things in order for their teams to succeed and both do it. Comparing these men’s stats is only scratching the surface of their worth to their team. Since each one is asked to do something different in different defensive schemes; comparing tackle, sack and interception numbers would only cheapen the impact these men have on the field.

Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher have both blazed through the league and left their marks for all of the future to see. Though Urlacher was picked higher than Lewis on draft day, (#9 and #26 overall respectively), Lewis was the more popular college player. Coming out one year early from the Univeristy of Miami, Lewis made an immediate impact on the Ravens by leading the team in tackles in his rookie year. Urlacher would make his draft stock soar after an impressive rookie combine showing. Playing safety at the University of New Mexico, Urlacher would bulk up after his senior year in college and quickly show the NFL that his athletic ability could not be ignored.

Over the course of their impressive careers, the two men have between them; two Super Bowl appearances, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, a Defensive Rookie of the Year award and 16 trips to Hawaii. 

Urlacher and Lewis both have storied NFL careers that still have chapters left to be written. If both men were to retire tomorrow, they should be considered as two of the best the game has ever seen.

The NFL has a new crop of young tacklers eager to carry on the linebacking torch. Let’s hope they can live up to the standards set by Urlacher and Lewis.