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Tuesday, September 28

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Bears Thu May 23 2013

Urlacher Retires As He Should: A Bear For Life

Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngIt wasn't the perfect ending Ray Lewis got after winning a Super Bowl. It wasn't a quiet and expected exit like Ronde Barber made after hanging up his cleats following his 240th consecutive game at a productive level. But in the end, Brian Urlacher begins his five-year wait for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame having only worn a Bears jersey.

After an awkward departure just a few months ago from the only team he's ever played for, Urlacher let the world know via Twitter that he had played his final game in the NFL -- opting to spend more time with his family and not working out every day to prepare his 34-year-old body for another brutalizing season. The Bears had offered him a one-year contract to return, but it would be on their terms, and not his. He tested the market, and found that it wasn't ripe for an aging veteran coming off multiple leg injuries who didn't jump off the screen the previous two seasons.

The departure might not have been pretty, but the career as a whole sure was. Though Lewis is widely considered the better player, Urlacher completely redefined the middle linebacker position in the NFL. The league had never before seen his combination of size, speed and skill before he entered the league in 2000 as a converted safety from New Mexico. Lewis was a monster, but Urlacher was three inches taller, weighed 15 more pounds and was just as fast as his smaller counterpart. He was nothing short of devastating.

The numbers don't do him justice either. He had 1,358 total tackles, but those numbers were deflated due to his role in Lovie Smith's defense during the last 75 percent of his career, which rewarded the weak-side backer (Lance Briggs) with the freedom to roam. He sacked the quarterback 41.5 times -- again, low because he was so dangerous in coverage to bother rushing the quarterback. His 22 interceptions, 85 passed defensed, 11 forced fumbles, and 15 fumble recoveries are mind-blowing for a linebacker who played 12 healthy seasons.

Urlacher was a pain to some of the media, and he had his off-the-field distractions, but when it came to football, nobody was more prepared. His opponents feared him, and he never showed an ounce of it himself. He stubbornly never wore long sleeves during those sub-zero games at Soldier Field because he didn't want to give off even a hint of weakness. He couldn't stand watching from the sidelines, and loved his teammates as much as a player can.

It's sad to see him retire, but he did so before his game fell to a level that would've been unrecognizable in comparison to his prime. He couldn't play at that pace any longer, and the market for his services was proof of that. He didn't want to put another jersey on. He wanted to retire a Bear.

Chicago has a history with its linebackers. Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary all have busts in Canton, and Urlacher will too. It's unfair to expect the Bears' new draft picks to have the kind of impact that 54 had, or 50, or 51. The fan base will demand greatness in the middle of the defense, and Phil Emery has drafted guys that fit the profile physically. For now, we'll all raise a glass to the latest anchor for the Monsters of the Midway. Thanks for the memories, man. Cheers.

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