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.

Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher: Who has the edge for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher: Who has the edge for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

As things go for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s rare for two players who played the same position to be inducted into Canton in the same year. Running backs Ladanian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis bucked that trend a year ago, while two pairs of quarterbacks (Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and Dan Marino and Steve Young) did in the mid-2000s. 

But only once have a pair of linebackers been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year: 1990, when Jack Lambert and Ted Hendricks were enshrined (it's also not like there have been a lot of years with two elite linebackers up for election). 

Could that spell bad news for Brian Urlacher (or Ray Lewis) on Saturday?

Urlacher and Lewis are both in their first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, and are joined as 2018 finalists by running back Edgerrin James, wide receivers Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens, center Kevin Mawae, guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca, tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, cornerbacks Ty Law and Everson Walls and safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch. 

Is that class deep enough to potentially pit Urlacher against Lewis in one of the Hall of Fame selection committee’s cut-downs (from 15 to 10 and 10 to five)? For the sake of this argument, let’s say it is, and compare the careers of the Bears’ and Ravens’ longtime, franchise-altering linebackers:

  Lewis Urlacher
Years 1996-2012 2000-2012
Games 228 182
Tackles* 2,050 1,353
Sacks 41.5 41.5
Interceptions 31 22
Forced fumbles 19 12
Playoff games 21 7
Playoff tackles 211 55
Playoff sacks 2 2
Playoff INTs 2 2
Playoff FFs 6 0
Conference titles 2 1
Super Bowl titles 2 0
Pro Bowls 13 8
1st-team All-Pro years 7 4

*A quick note on tackles: The NFL only began officially tracking tackle totals in 2001, so these are unofficial combined (which included assisted) career totals via Beyond the odd nature of this country’s most popular sports league somehow not tracking its most basic defensive statistic until after the turn of the millennium, it may make both Urlacher and Lewis’ tackle numbers not 100 percent accurate. Either way, both players were productive on a per-game basis after 2001: Urlacher averaged 7.4 tackles per game, while Lewis averaged 8.8 tackles per game in the same time period. 

Anyways, back to the main point: The statistical comparison above doesn’t favor Urlacher if it were to come down to him or Lewis making the Hall of Fame. Yes, they're equal on sacks, but on a per-game basis, Lewis tops Urlacher in every other category in both the regular season and playoffs. 

But one of this year’s fellow finalists — Mawae, who played for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans from 1994-2009 — offered this reasoning why he’d choose Urlacher over Lewis in a head-to-head battle for a Hall of Fame spot:

"I’ve got to view it in the lens of how I played against guys … not as if I was in the coach … I’ve got to do it in how I played against them,” Mawae said, via Talk of Fame Sports Network’s Clark Judge. “To me, Ray was all over the place — an athletic guy, but he was not a downhill hitter. He’s not taking on offensive linemen. He was a jump-around guy.

“Brian Urlacher, sideline to sideline … could do it all … just like Ray. But he was more of a physical player in the box against offensive linemen, and that’s just the way I view it. Half-one dozen, half the other. Both of them are going to get in. You know what I’m saying?”

Both Lewis and Urlacher will be enshrined in Canton. Whether they go in together or a year apart is the first question — and then if Lewis will get in before Urlacher seems to be the second question. We’ll find out Saturday.