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Why I picked Brian Urlacher #1 over Walter Payton in our WCG all-time Bears draft

The WCG staff did an all-time Bears draft. I had the #1 pick. I took 54 over 34. Before you email Lester to kick me off staff, please let me explain why.

Carolina Panthers vs Chicago Bears - November 20, 2005 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

In honor of Brian Urlacher heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’re sharing some our of past Urlacher articles to our front page for you guys to reminisce on.

The first thing I should say is that Brian Urlacher probably disagrees with me. Flip to the 1:33 mark of the below interview with Jarrett Payton after this year’s Hall of Fame announcement.

It’s funny, people ask me any question about the Bears, I say ‘Walter Payton.’ Who was the best Bear? ‘Walter Payton.’ Who was the best running back? ‘Walter Payton.’ He’s always the first thing that pops in my mind because he is in my opinion the greatest player of all-time.

That part I agree with: if it’s possible to select a “greatest player of all-time” in football, a sport with 22 players on the field at once with very different responsibilities, I will take Sweetness. His was the rarest of combinations: on-field excellence, statistical abundance, leadership, teamwork, and the embodiment of the football ethos. Hit ‘em early, hit ‘em often. Never say die. Never go down. And by all means, do it all: run, catch, block, pass, kick.

If I have to pick a greatest player ever, Walter’s in the running, along with Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Lawrence Taylor. There are obviously tons and tons of all-time greats, but those four guys have always stood out to me as having the best collection of traits that come to my mind when I think about great football.

If I were drafting a team to compete for the next 10 years, and I had the #1 pick, I would probably take Walter first. In this exercise, I was thinking about this more as a one-shot deal, and I decided before even knowing the draft order that I wanted to go defense first. I was actually hoping I did not get the #1 pick, and if it had been legal I think I would have traded down.

So naturally I got the #1 pick. And then came that uncomfortable moment where I realized I was not going to take Walter, and that I would definitely hear about it from WCG readers and my fellow writers. I decided to press on for three reasons:

  1. I really do like the idea of starting on defense.
  2. This is primarily a thought exercise, and I consider it more interesting to take someone other than Walter #1 so that we can think about who he is, what he means to us, his talent, etc., than simply taking him #1 and having everyone go, “Well of course.”
  3. I decided I would take Thomas Jones, and I would then feel fine about not grabbing Walter. This is not because TJ replicated everything that Walter did — and obviously he was here for a shorter period — but because TJ played with a similar spirit, drive, and will as Payton, along with being a versatile runner and receiver.

My next decision was the defender to take #1, and it came down to three guys: Urlacher, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary. Each guy has his strengths. Butkus didn’t invent the middle linebacker position, but he was the first to perfect it. He has the skill set along with the attitude and toughness that we as Bears fans love.

Singletary had those traits, with less meanness and more speed. He was also the leader of the greatest defense ever, and one of only six middle linebackers to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the 1st ballot. (The others? Butkus, Jack Lambert, Ray Nitschke, and as of this year, Urlacher and Ray Lewis. That’s right — we have half.)

Urlacher had probably even less meanness than Singletary and even more speed. All three guys can hit, though Butkus definitely wanted to behead people. Butkus and Urlacher were the best in the passing game. Singletary and Urlacher were the fastest. Singletary and Urlacher strike me as the smartest. Urlacher was the best pass rusher.

Ultimately, I chose Urlacher for four main reasons:

  1. The skillset. That combination of size, speed, power and grace were too much to pass up. This is a guy who could run down Michael Vick sideline to sideline, drag Daunte Culpepper to the turf, defend a tight end up the seam, and had hands that were quick enough to intercept Brett Favre bullets.
  2. Intelligence and leadership. These are two of Singletary’s greatest qualities, and I just feel like Urlacher matches him. Every Bears defender I’ve ever talked to or heard speak about Brian talk about his smarts on the field, the way he knew every assignment on every play, and how valuable he was even when you ignore his physicality, as was kind of the case in 2012 when he was hobbled yet remained dominant.
  3. Winning. Brian had a sense of the moment (see: 2006 Cardinals game, or his two postseason interceptions), but I also just felt that his play was often tied to our team’s success. You could argue that his best three individual seasons tied directly to the three seasons when his team was best: 2001, 2005, 2006. I dunno ... I just feel like he brought those intangibles that led to Ws.
  4. Generational bias and favoritism. With some guys in this draft, I took them because I wanted to make sure they were selected. But with the choice between Urlacher, Butkus and Samurai, I obviously knew all three of those guys would be taken. So I played favorites and went with the guy whose career I watched from start to finish.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Can I stay on staff?

And as always, please correct me if I’m wrong, especially about guys who played either before my time (Butkus) or when I was young (Singletary).

Thanks gang! Bear Down.

Poll

If you had the 1st pick in the WCG all-time Bears draft, who would you pick?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Dick Butkus
    (31 votes)
  • 4%
    Sid Luckman
    (14 votes)
  • 67%
    Walter Payton
    (224 votes)
  • 5%
    Gale Sayers
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike Singletary
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    Brian Urlacher
    (30 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (12 votes)
331 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you had the 1st pick in the WCG all-time Bears draft, and you decided that you were picking a defensive player first, who would you pick?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Doug Atkins
    (4 votes)
  • 41%
    Dick Butkus
    (115 votes)
  • 9%
    Richard Dent
    (26 votes)
  • 6%
    Dan Hampton
    (17 votes)
  • 5%
    Mike Singletary
    (16 votes)
  • 33%
    Brian Urlacher
    (93 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (7 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now