Brian Urlacher

Brian Urlacher reflects after getting Hall of Fame nod: 'I was very happy to go to college for free'

Brian Urlacher reflects after getting Hall of Fame nod: 'I was very happy to go to college for free'

There’s plenty to say about Brian Urlacher’s Hall of Fame career.

Urlacher spent 13 years as a linebacker for the Bears and defined the team to a generation of fans. That’s why it’s no surprise he’s going in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

When talking to reporters while the announcement was made official, Urlacher spoke about how the Hall of Famers “don’t do it on our own.”

“We got coaches, teachers or whoever coaching when you’re a kid, your parents,” Urlacher said. “But first and foremost is my mom. I was with my kids and my wife so that was nice. They got to be able to be there. I texted all my coaches who I played for in the NFL and college. My high school coaches shortly after I got the news as well. It’s a long list, much like most of these guys, of people you think of when you get news like that.”

Urlacher also reflected on his journey from Lovington High School in New Mexico to playing for the New Mexico Lobos in college before winding up with the Bears.

“I was very happy to go to college for free and get a scholarship to go play college football,” Urlacher said. “Then I got better and better there. Then I was told I might be a draft pick. That was my sophomore year they started talking about me playing in the NFL possibly. Then obviously first-round draft pick. You just never know. There’s so many things that have to go right. You got to stay healthy. You got to make, for the most part, right decisions off the field. You got to do a lot of things right. Fortunately for me I surrounded myself with a lot of really good people who helped me get to this process and get through this process.”

Watch more reaction from Urlacher in the video above.

Takeaways from Brian Urlacher becoming latest Bears HOF selection

Takeaways from Brian Urlacher becoming latest Bears HOF selection

Takeaways from Hall of Fame selections the night before Super Bowl 52. Well, one in particular.

Brian Urlacher going into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot does have a certain right resonance to it for this reporter. Having had the good fortune to cover pretty much every snap of his career, sitting in golf carts chatting with him in different training camps over the years, a lot of impressions, snapshots run through your mind.

Remembering the bewildered, obviously a little devastated young rookie going into the Halas Hall back door after the 2000 preseason practice at which he’d lost his starting strong-side linebacker job…

…The very principled guy who held out for a reworked contract early in 2008, sticking up for all players who held out, telling me, “Teams can demand you take a pay cut and then even cut you, even though you have a contract; why are players the bad guys when they demand the teams change that contract, too?” (Bears GM Jerry Angelo thought Brian’s requests were fair and the Bears did re-do his contract)…

…The hurt and angered veteran feeling spurned when the Bears GM hard-balled him in 2013 about one final contract and Brian left the Bears, bitter…

…And finally the nervous guy in his Minneapolis hotel room with his family when the Hall of Fame President David Baker came to inform him that the kid from New Mexico was going into the Hall of Fame. “I heard that knock on the door and everything just settled down after that,” Urlacher said in an interview at the Super Bowl. “I was excited…. Just glad it was over after that.”

[RELATED: Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot]

The middle linebacker position got its start in Chicago when Bears nose guard Bill George stood up and began operating in a way unlike what the NFL was used to in the middle. So on Saturday it felt somehow as it should be when Brian Urlacher, who redefined the position in his 13-year Bears career, was voted to join George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He’s one of the best pure football players this reporter has ever seen, which might be a little obvious, given that the 48 Hall of Fame selectors just sent him into Canton along with Baltimore Ravens legend-at-the-position Ray Lewis, who played the same position but not the way Urlacher did (and vice versa, to be fair).

Maybe the measure of the man is how much he told me last week that he was anguishing over who’d be his choice to deliver his induction speech at Canton. Far from getting ahead of himself in the process, and laughing that it’d probably jinx things to talk about who his Canton presenter would be – Brian was just genuinely pained at the prospect of being forced to choose just one individual to keynote his HOF moment, because he wanted to share the honor and the moment with so many, and to repay what they’d given him.

“We don’t do it on our own,” Urlacher said after the selection.

Teammates said and will say so many glowing tributes to Urlacher, but it was what was said and done on the football field that formed the greatest testimonials. Defensive end Alex Brown held his feelings back all through a poor 7-9 season of 2009, a season that effectively ended just before halftime the first week when Urlacher suffered a season-ending wrist injury. When the year ended, Brown said what he knew would sound like an excuse but was the truth, that losing Urlacher gutted the team before it really had a chance to get started.

In the defensive huddle between plays, a lot of nasty talk goes on. The late Bryan Robinson, one of Urlacher’s protectors through the latter’s first four seasons, said all the grousing, talking and everything else came to an immediate stop when Urlacher came into the huddle and said one word: “Listen.”

Now he’s in the Hall of Fame, clearly having made a definitive impression on 48 selectors who include some of the most distinguished observers of the sport. Urlacher’s selection did not come easily, with him needing to finish among the top five, along with Lewis, receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, and safety Brian Dawkins, in a class from which as many as 10 more will eventually go into the Hall of Fame.

Urlacher becomes the sixth Bears linebacker to earn entry in pro football’s most honored circle, a group which includes Butkus, George, Singletary, George Connor and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner (who led the NFL in interceptions with eight in 1942).

But nobody played the position, or any of the linebacker positions, like this guy.

Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot

Brian Urlacher elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame on first ballot

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.