There was little doubt Brian Urlacher would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — the question was if it would be in 2018 or 2019. That, on Saturday, he was elected on his first ballot in a deep class of finalists was a well-deserved recognition of the career of one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game.
Urlacher received at least 80 percent of the vote from the 48-person Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and will be enshrined in Canton in August, along with linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens and safety Brian Dawkins. Urlacher is the 28th Hall of Famer to make his name with the Bears, and will be the fourth former Bears linebacker to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
The 15 finalists in 2018 comprised what was considered a deep class — The Athletic’s Dan Pompei, a Hall of Fame voter who presented Urlacher, figured 85 percent of this group will eventually be elected. Urlacher overcame the committee’s perceived aversion to electing two linebackers in the same class; the last time that happened was 1990, which was also the last time two modern era defensive players who played the same position were elected in the same year.
But Urlacher’s statistical profile and highly regarded intangibles made him a deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Urlacher was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. The eight-time Pro Bowler also was one of three linebackers named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team.
During a career that spanned from 2000-2012, Urlacher altered the course of Bears history and was the most important building block for the elite defenses of the Lovie Smith era (2004-2012). Urlacher totaled 1,779 tackles (via the Bears’ numbers) in 182 career games, along with 41 1/2 sacks, 22 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles. Urlacher started 180 of his 182 games with the Bears, good for the third highest total in franchise history behind Walter Payton (184) and Olin Kreutz (183).
A true sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker who wasn’t afraid to take on opposing offensive lines, the Bears rode one of Urlacher’s four first-team All-Pro seasons to Super Bowl XLI in 2007. The Bears won the NFC North four times with Urlacher anchoring their defense; in those years, the team ranked first, first, third and fourth in points allowed per game.
That’s just a snapshot of Urlacher’s career; his impact was felt well beyond individual and team statistics. Any Bears fan can attest to that, as can his former teammates and coaches.
“You don’t get the chance very often to coach and be around a player and person like Brian Urlacher,” Smith told NBC Sports Chicago’s John “Moon” Mullin this week. “He absolutely knew what every player on the defense was supposed to do, on every play.”
And just as everyone in Chicago and connected to Urlacher had hoped, No. 54 is headed to where he belongs: Canton, immortalized among the greats of the game.