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.”
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.