Gale Sayers

Will Brian Urlacher be a first ballot NFL Hall-of-Famer?

Will Brian Urlacher be a first ballot NFL Hall-of-Famer?

On Tuesday night Brian Urlacher was among the 108 players nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018. Joining the Bears legend as first-time nominees were names such as Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Steve Hutchinson and Ronde Barber.

Urlacher eventually will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, that's without a doubt. But whether Urlacher gets in on his first try is another story.

Looking at the raw numbers, in 13 seasons Urlacher amassed 1,353 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions. He was named a Pro Bowler eight times, earned First Team All-Pro honors four times, won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. In 2010 he was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and he led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, where they were defeated by Peyton Manning and the Colts.

A maximum of five modern day players can be enshrined each season, and it's safe to say Lewis and Moss will be among those players. That leaves three slots for players such as Urlacher, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, as well as the players who missed out last season such as John Lynch, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins and Hines Ward.

Here's a list of linebackers who gained entry on their first try:

2015: Junior Seau
2014: Derrick Brooks
1999: Lawrence Taylor
1998: Mike Singletary
1990: Jack Lambert
1988: Jack Ham
1979: Dick Butkus
1978: Ray Nitschke

Along with Singletary and Butkus, first ballot Bears included Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and George Blanda.

Will Urlacher be next?

The nominees will be reduced to 25 semifinalists in November and to 15 finalists in December.

Complete player buy-in a critical need in battle to reduce NFL head trauma

Complete player buy-in a critical need in battle to reduce NFL head trauma

Pulling together some thoughts and perspectives amid the aftershocks from some very sad news… .

The revelations emerging over the past week were dark and ominous: that Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers is fighting dementia, that perennial Pro Bowler Lance Briggs is dealing with symptoms he considers part of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Those cast a pall over anyone involved with the game, one that deepened exponentially when Dwight Clark disclosed that he is suffering from ALS. Because this kind of news is coming out too frequently, it sometimes loses the tragic pointedness just because it's far from the first time.

Clark didn't expressly link his condition to the universe of impacts he lived in for his nine NFL seasons, all with the 49ers, saying only that he suspects that playing football was involved.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the NFL will be considering rules changes at the owners meetings next week, one of which raises the prospect that players could be automatically suspended for certain "egregious illegal hits."

All of this together is recalling to mind a couple of conversations that cause me to wonder whether players may in fact hold a very big key to dialing down even a little bit the hits that are ultimately having the cumulative effect of ruining lives.

An interesting casual conversation one day in the Halas Hall locker room left ripple effects with this reporter long after the chat.

[MORE BEARS:Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches]

Concussions were in the news at the time, as they and their consequences too often are, and the young member of the Bears' offense and I were talking about the whole business. I remarked that with all the deeper, more serious issues with head trauma, I did not understand why players were not moved to fury by blows to the head, the way they often are when they believe a player has gone after their knees. Knee injuries shorten careers; head injuries shorten lives, so why not the same anger reaction?

"Intent," he said. "Somebody goes after your knees, it's on purpose. Blows to the head just happen."

They do just happen. But does that go far enough? The 2015 Vontaze Burfict hit on Antonio Brown? Going further back, Jack Tatum's blow that paralyzed Darryl Stingley? "Just happen" doesn't get it.

Every training camp, officials come through with videos and presentations to players, coaches and media on rules changes and interpretations. After one of these, veteran referee Ed Hochuli told me, "You can tell intent. You know the guys, and you know the hits."

The players know. And they should be holding each other accountable, as accountable for a shot to the head (more accountable, in fact) than for something like twisting ankles (which Steelers and Panthers went public criticizing Burfict for doing at different times). Maybe because collisions involving heads are just an inescapable part of a collisions sport, they're taken as just part of the cost of doing football business. Who knows?

The point isn't to even remotely suggest that players can put an end to head trauma. This is in no shred of a way blaming the victims. And evidence is that the community of athletes is indeed becoming a force in the right direction, demanding that brain injuries be taken with the seriousness they should be.

But blows to the head are potentially lethal, and as too many stories keep coming out, stories of Briggs, Clark and Sayers, the hope has to be that even in the maelstrom of games, those get the attention at the time just the way a leg-whip or ankle-twist does.

Bears Classics: Dick Butkus profiles the standard for MLB greatness

Bears Classics: Dick Butkus profiles the standard for MLB greatness

The history of pro football is replete with seminal influences, individuals who changed the game with their play, coaching or other means. Appropriately for a series headlined "Bears Classics," on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 9:30 p.m. CSN will chronicle the life and career of Butkus — the man who did not create the position of middle linebacker, but effectively defined it after taking the job away from Bill George, who in fact had created the position in 1954 when, as a middle guard in a traditional 5-2 front, he stood upright and changed an area of football forever.

But when Butkus ran onto the field for his first practice after being drafted third overall in the 1965 draft, former Bears teammate and wide receiver Johnny Morris told a friend, “You could almost feel a chill come over the field. Bill [George] knew his time was done.”

The “story” of Butkus is almost anecdotal. As the saying goes in theater, “action is character,” and nowhere would that resonate truer than Butkus, after whom Sylvester Stallone fittingly named his 140-pound bullmastiff in “Rocky.”

In the course of compiling and writing “Tales from the Chicago Bears Sidelines” some years back, I was fortunate enough to come across some of those “actions” that went into the Butkus “character:”

The Bears had a lobby display of their Hall of Fame players, with stories. To wit: Minnesota Vikings running back Dave Osborne had once been annihilated by Butkus on an ill-fated attempted sweep. Osborne was asked after the game what had happened to his blocker on the play. “I don’t know,” Osborne said. “Maybe Butkus ate him.”

[SHOP: Buy a Dick Butkus retro jersey]

Gale Sayers, drafted by the Bears with the No. 4 pick, right after Butkus, was asked by a teammate who the toughest guy Sayers had ever played against. Sayers didn’t answer, just pointed out toward the field: No. 51.

Butkus fury was not reserved for players only. Longtime NFL official Norm Schacter made a call that incensed Butkus, who began raging and finger-pointing in Schacter’s face. Finally Schacter’d had enough.

“Butkus,” Schacter warned, “if you don’t get your finger out of my face, I am going to bite your damn head off!”

Butkus stormed off but not before snarling back, “If you do, you’ll have more brains in your stomach than you do in your head!”

Pittsburgh Steelers center Ray Mansfield recalled Butkus destroying the Steelers’ special teams: “He knocked out L.C. Greenwood on a punt, and he knocked out Warren Bankston, who was a fullback and very good special-teams player,” Mansfield said. “I remember Warren coming over and crying, ‘I don’t know who I am!”

He was not alone.

“Dick was an animal,” said Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones. “I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”