Since former Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher retired from football in May of 2013, he has made the most out of his newfound free time.
One of his more momentous endeavors was undergoing a hair transplant in 2014, replacing his trademark bald head with a new hairdo. While the procedure has been made public for over two years now, some people are still taken aback by his hair.
“I saw a guy that I played against the middle of my career - and in football, everybody knows me as bald - and he hadn’t seen me with hair,” Urlacher told Windy City Gridiron. “So the whole time he was just staring at my head.”
“It’s still an adjustment for people who haven’t seen me in person,” he said. “They’ve seen the pictures, but it’s still a little adjustment for people who haven’t seen me with hair personally.”
RESTORE, the hair transplant company with gave Urlacher his transplant, hosted a private Hall of Fame Induction Party in Oak Brook, Illinois on Friday. Urlacher, who was officially inducted in August, claims that the reality of the induction has finally set in.
“I think when it first happened, I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ It first hits you when they give you the news you’re like, ‘this is really gonna happen’,” he explained. “And then building up to the induction, you’re so stressed out about your speech, getting everything coordinated when you get there, and afterwards it’s just like, ‘it’s over’, and you can finally relax.”
“It’s been a few months now, so it’s finally hit me that I’m in there. More importantly, the whole process is over. It’s such a huge ordeal. It’s great, but it’s a big undertaking to do.”
Urlacher was the kingpin of a dominant Chicago defense in the 2000s, a unit that produced several Pro Bowlers throughout the years. Though he was the first member of those teams to make it into the Hall of Fame, he sees a few other former teammates who in his mind, deserve to be inducted, as well.
“I’m biased obviously because I love these guys; I know how great they were,” he said. “But Charles [Tillman], Lance [Briggs], Olin [Kreutz], [Devin] Hester. Julius Peppers I’m sure will get in.”
Peppers will eventually go in as a member of the Carolina Panthers, but the other four spent much of their time - or in Briggs’ case, all of his time - in the NFL as Bears.
“Those four guys, what they meant to me personally and our team and what they did on Sundays was amazing, so I hope they get a lot of votes and a lot of people looking out for them”.
Urlacher claims that he does not know much about how players are nominated, but remembers the way he found out about his nomination.
“I found out I was nominated, someone was like, ‘oh, look, you’re a finalist for the Hall of Fame’, and I was like, ‘great’. They don’t call you and tell you; you find out through the media.”
Coming off of a stellar collegiate career at New Mexico, Urlacher was the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. After then-starter Barry Minter suffered an injury two games into the season, Urlacher stepped into the role of starting middle linebacker. The position is one that has been exalted in Bears history, but he did not know just how rich the franchise’s past at the position was until after he made the switch.
“I didn’t know the history [when I was drafted],” he said. “At first, I was an outside linebacker, so I didn’t realize the history I was getting into until I got here, and I was like, ‘woah’. Singletary, Butkus, Bill George, you’re like, ‘damn. These dudes were good. This is where it started’. But I didn’t move to middle linebacker until midway through the season, so right away I was like, ‘yep, just playing SAM would be good’. It doesn’t matter what position you play on defense: you understand immediately the impact that the defense has on this city.”
Urlacher and his predecessors set a benchmark for future Bears linebackers to reach, one that fans hope rookie Roquan Smith will eventually reach. He has played well in recent weeks, and Urlacher has hopes that the Georgia alum can follow in his footsteps.
“I hope [he will]. I certainly hope so. Their defense is great. They’re top five in the league. They give them a chance to win every single week. He’s doing a great job. It’s hard as a rookie; it’s a long season. It seems like forever ago that I was a rookie, because it was, but it’s a long season, he’s doing a good job, and they’re winning, so that’s all that matters.”
Smith is a part of a talented Chicago defense that has wreaked havoc on opposing offense this year. A huge factor of their dominance has been the ability of every player in their starting lineup to play well. There is not much of a weakness in their lineup, and most of the teams they have played this year have had a hard time against them.
“Look at every level of their defense,” Urlacher said. “D-line, linebacker, safeties...they’re good at every level. There’s not one level that’s like, ‘they can cover but they can’t rush’, no. They can do it all. It’s amazing.”
The addition of outside linebacker Khalil Mack has given the Bears a game-changing player that they arguably have not had since Urlacher retired. The pass rusher, who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in a trade in September, has racked up seven sacks in seven games.
“Obviously it starts with Khalil. He’s the Defensive Player of the Year in my opinion, and it’s not even close,” Urlacher stated. “He wrecks games. That’s what he does. That’s his job. And we got him for two first-round picks! You look at our first-round picks over the last 15 years, see how many did anything. And you trade two of those...you don’t know what you’re gonna get with those picks. It’s all boom or bust, and you got a generational player in Khalil Mack. I’d make that trade.”
“I thought maybe Ryan Pace had something on [Jon] Gruden, maybe ‘hey, give me this trade or I’m going to go public with what I have on you’. You’d think he’s got dirt on somebody with how he pulled that trade off. Khalil’s the man.”
Urlacher is content with watching football now as opposed to playing it. Now that his 13-year career is over, he seems to be happy to have moved on to the next chapter of his life, even if there are some parts of his playing days that he misses.
“[I miss] my teammates and my coaches,” he said. “That’s it. I love football, don’t get me wrong. I love playing football, but you can’t replace hanging out with your buddies all day long. You go to work all day long for 10 hours, but you’re with your friends all day long. You’re in meetings, you’re in practice, you’re screwing around all day. You’re still working, but you’re at work all day with your buddies. That’s what I miss the most, and also my coaches, as well.”
With a lot of free time now at his disposal, he has made sure to play an active role in the lives of his three children, as well as enjoying a little bit of me time.
“It’s been fun. I was always busy with my kids, but now [my life] revolves around them for the most part. We do what they want to do. [I do] lots of traveling, I golf when I can, it’s fun. I’ve really enjoyed myself since I retired.”
“I’m going to get bored eventually, but I’m going to ride it out until I get bored,” he added.
With the Bears currently in first place of the NFC North, excitement surrounding the team has reached heights unmatched by any group since 2010, when Urlacher and the Bears reached the NFC Championship. He feels incredibly optimistic about the team’s prospects, both now and in the future.
“I think they’re going to win the [NFC] North,” he claimed. “Before the season, I thought maybe middle of the pack. I thought the Packers were going to be great. I thought Minnesota was going to be better than they are. With the quarterbacks they have in their division, people weren’t sure about Mitch [Trubisky]. Mitch has played great. So you look at what he’s done and what their defense has done, I think they’ll win the North.”
“If they can get a home game in the playoffs, oh man. We’ve got to get the Saints out of that dome. We need someone to start beating up on the Saints for us so we can play them at home if we get the chance to play them.”
Urlacher likes what the team has done to inject their roster with talented, young players. Considering that they were the oldest roster in the league just four years ago, the moves that general manager Ryan Pace has made have made a positive impact on the franchise.
“It’s exciting. I’m so happy to be a Bears fan now for what they’ve done and what they’re going to do. Not just now, but for the future of this team, man. They’re young. They’ve got some guys that are going to be around for a while. Mitch is , Khalil’s 26, 27. [Anthony] Miller’s done great, the list goes on and on. Everything is going in the right direction for them.”
The 2010 NFC Championship game was the last time that Chicago made it to the playoffs. Urlacher feels that he, along with the millions of other Bears fans, will not have to wait much longer for that streak to end.
“We deserve it. It’s been a few years where it’s been going in the wrong direction, so to see where it’s going right now is a good thing. Ryan Pace has done a really good job.”
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also the lead NFL Draft analyst for The Blitz Network, and he additionally covers the NFL Draft for USA Today’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or e-mailed at email@example.com.