Bears great Brian Urlacher elected to Hall of Fame on first ballot

Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Football

When middle linebacker Barry Minter was sidelined with a back injury in just the third week of the 2000 season, the Bears moved Urlacher. They never again discussed where he was best suited to play or what he could handle.

"It was Dick Jauron that said, 'Put him at the middle,' " Lindsey said. "Dick could see the big picture. Luckily for us, Brian was more than willing to spend time to learn the new position, and it's nice when you have rare talent and a guy that wants to do it. That's the difference between the real great players -- they want to do it and they'll do anything to be successful. He was like a sponge. You just kept giving him information and he absorbed it and would want more. The thing about the guys with the rare talent: They can do any damn thing you ask them. You can ask them the impossible and they can get it done. And Brian did it for us as a great middle linebacker."

When the Bears signed massive defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor in 2001, Urlacher raised his game to a new level as the duo kept offensive linemen off of him and allowed him to make plays with his remarkable speed.

"There are a lot of guys that can run fast in a straight line, but the athleticism he showed for a guy that size, off the charts," Blache said.

The Bears stormed through the NFC Central to win the division with a 13-3 record and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

When Smith arrived in 2004 with the Cover-2 defense that he had learned with the Buccaneers, Urlacher was a unique piece in a defense that traditionally had highlighted the skills of the weak-side linebacker. He had the ability to take on running backs but also could turn and sprint downfield, an imposing figure with great length that made it difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

He spearheaded the "Monday Night Miracle" at Arizona in 2006 with 25 tackles and a forced fumble that resulted in a touchdown. Urlacher had five interceptions and five sacks in 2007, a testament to his ability to do anything needed.

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Urlacher was never very comfortable in the spotlight but always at ease around his teammates, which made him immensely popular. He treated the newest rookie the same way he did the most tenured veterans. When former teammate Todd Johnson became a high school coach in Sarasota, Fla., he didn't have enough uniforms to dress all of his players. Urlacher provided new Nike jerseys -- home and away -- for the entire roster and did so without seeking any attention, one of countless anecdotes of how he helped friends.

Needless to say, a large contingent of Urlacher supporters will be on hand seven months from now when he receives his gold jacket.

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