Chicago Bears legend Brian Urlacher was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility on Saturday night. Urlacher will join fellow Bears defensive players such as Dick Butkus, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, and Dan Hampton in Canton.
Named to eight Pro-Bowl teams and four All-Pro teams, Urlacher’s career was built on a high level of athletic ability and a renown football intellect. He became the first Bears player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in seven years and the first “first Ballot” Hall of Famerin 20 years since Singletary.
The Bears drafted him with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and his play during his rookie season would lead to the Bears having their first Defensive Rookie of the Year since 1990 and their first overall Pro-Bowl player since 1993.
In college, Urlacher played as a safety for New Mexico, but the Bears drafted him as a linebacker. Throughout the 2000 season, Urlacher demonstrated his freakishly athletic ability week by week. During a stretch of five games, he recorded a sack in every game recording six total during the span. He finished with two interceptions and eight total sacks during his first year being primarily used as a blitzing linebacker.
There was no sophomore slump for Urlacher as he led the Bears defense to a surprise turnaround leading the team to an eight-game improvement and their first division title in 11 years. His role in the Bears defense changed as the defensive game plan was built around his skill-set.
Large defensive linemen Ted Washington and Keith Traylor were signed to clog the line of scrimmage and force opponents running backs to the outside where Urlacher was able to tackle them for minimal gains. The defense finished second in rushing yards allowed allowing just 1313 total rushing yards for the season. He finished with 116 combined total tackles to go along with six sacks and three interceptions.
It would be another four years before the Bears would have another winning season in 2005 when they went 11-5 and the defense finished second in total defensive in the NFL.
Urlacher’s efforts led to him winning the league Defensive Player of the Year award even without recording a single interception or fumble recovery. The team as a whole only allowed 202 points the entire season and nearly broke the NFL record for least amount of points allowed in a season by just 37 points. He led the team again with 121 total combined tackles and six sacks.
As great as the 2005 season was, the Bears would follow it up in 2006 by being the best team in the NFC with a 13-3 record and reaching the Super Bowl only to lose to the Indianapolis Colts.
Urlacher again was named an All-Pro and to the Pro-Bowl for his performance that season. He would have arguably the best of his career that season against the Arizona Cardinals in an all-time classic Monday Night Football Game.
The Bears trailed 20-3 at halftime of the game only to score three touchdowns on defense and special teams to win the game 24-23. Urlacher registered 25 total tackles in the game and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown late in the game by Charles Tillman. He finished the season with 141 total tackles and three interceptions.
The Bears would win the NFC North Division again in 2010 only to lose to the Green Bay Packers in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. Although the Bears would only make it to the playoffs in three of Urlacher’s 13 seasons, he still performed at a high level in those forgettable years.
Following the magical 2001 season, the Bears finished with a dismal 4-12 record as injuries and luck were against them, Urlacher still managed to set a new team single-season record for most tackles finishing with 151 total tackles. It was a remarkable feat seeing how there was little continuity defensively due to injuries and with the Bears eliminated from playoff contention in early December.
During Lovie Smith tenure from 2004 to 2012, Urlacher’s role in the defense changed as he was relied on more to cover the middle of the field in zone defense limiting his sack numbers. He was consistent when it came to interceptions including an incredible streak in late 2007. With the team struggling to make the playoffs, Urlacher recorded four interceptions in the last five games, including one in each of the final three games. He had another memorable performance against the Minnesota Vikings where he recorded two sacks and an interception.
Urlacher would perform his best against the rival Packers as he had big plays against legendary quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Against Farve, he recorded two sacks and three interceptions in 15 games. Of his three interception returns, one was returned for a touchdown with the other setting up scoring drives for Bears offense. Urlacher also has most interceptions against Rodgers as he intercepted him three times during his career.
He finished his career with 41.5 total sacks, an eye-popping 1354 total tackles, 15 forced fumbles, and 22 interceptions. Another impressive feat was his ability to gain yards on interception and fumble returns as 8 of 37 turnovers were returned for 25 yards or more. One play that summarizes how gifted Urlacher was both psychically and mental came back in 2008 against the Packers.
With Rodgers and the Packers facing third and eight on the Bears 40-yard line, Urlacher, who was lined up at middle linebacker position, called an audible before the snap. He was then able to drop thirty yards back into coverage to intercept the pass at the 10-yard line, even more remarkable was that he was covering wide receiver Donald Driver out of the slot and covered step by step up the field.
The election of Urlacher into the NFL Hall of Fame is a special one for Bears fans because he was responsible for bringing the Bears defense back to respectability during his time.
From the time when Singletary retired to when Urlacher was drafted, the Bears didn’t have a marquee player on defense. From 2000 to 2012, the Bears defense was respected because of his play and that is why he has been elected to NFL most cherished club.