The news came across Twitter a little after 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
“Bears announce they cannot reach agreement with Brian Urlacher and both sides will move on,” wrote Brad Biggs, the Chicago Tribune Bears beat writer. “That marks the end of an era for Urlacher and Bears after 13 seasons.”
My heart sank.
The face of my favorite team, someone I had cheered for years, was no longer going to be wearing a Bears jersey. I hadn’t even imagined a day without No. 54 roaming the middle of the Bears defense, yet in an instant, that was the case.
It made me a mad. Ray Lewis got to have a goodbye tour with the Baltimore Ravens. Instead of getting that with Chicago, Urlacher instead was shown the door. That wasn’t fair to him or Bears fans.
Just like Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, we see the NFL is a business. Loyalty and popularity doesn’t speak as loud as dollars and cents.
I’ll admit, Urlacher didn’t top my wish list when the Bears had the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Knowing the Redskins were taking LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, my top two choices for Chicago’s pick were Plaxico Burress and Shaun Alexander.
Part of my hesitation with Urlacher was that he was a bit of an unknown. His athleticism was undeniable, but he had played safety in college. Could his skills translate to linebacker in the NFL?
The team put him at strongside linebacker to start his rookie year and he stunk it up. After a brief stay on the bench, he ended up getting a chance at middle linebacker following an injury.
By the start of the 2001 season, Urlacher was by far my favorite Bears player. I watched him in the second game of the season when he went into Atlanta and terrorized Michael Vick. Chicago made the playoffs that year and Urlacher was a main reason why.
The next year I was present in Atlanta to see this play, when Urlacher hurdled Warrick Dunn and annihilated Vick on a blitz. It is still one of my favorite sports memories of all time.
The Bears had up-and-down seasons throughout Urlacher’s career, but that was usually the offense’s fault. When Chicago actually had a strong running game to go with its defense, it made the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLI was the Bears’ only appearance in the Super Bowl during the Urlacher era. It is a shame and really a wasted opportunity. I mostly blame former GM Jerry Angelo for that, considering he couldn’t draft good offensive players to save his life.
Now I am a realist – Urlacher isn’t the same player he once was. He admitted last year that his knee would probably never be 100 percent again, and his play showed that at times last year.
That said, you can’t convince me the Bears are a better team with Urlacher. He’s been the heart and soul of that team for more than a decade.
Two things make this situation even worse in my mind.
1) Chicago’s final offer was 1-year, $2 million. Urlacher said he would have accepted $3 million to play. Really, one million was the difference here? I get the Bears were tight on cap space, but come on!
2) There is no one on Chicago’s roster to replace him. No one.
This means the Bears have to start some perennial back-up, sign a veteran guy in free agency at a discounted rate, or draft a new MLB (please not Te’o, please not Te’o).
I am willing to give GM Phil Emery the benefit of the doubt. Over the past two offseasons, he has corrected a lot of the mistakes made by Angelo on the offensive side of the ball. His ability to build a defense is still a bit up in the air, though.
If middle linebacker turns out to be a disaster for Chicago next year, Emery will take the blame – and I doubt he will enjoy the heat very much.
For Urlacher, he made the smart move to grant several interviews to let people know what really happened in negotiations. That was great PR and a way to stay endeared to Bears fans.
I imagine someone will make Urlacher an offer, though it still is hard to fathom him in another jersey. I only hope next year he doesn’t suit up for the Vikings, or God forbid, the Packers.
Thanks for all the memories Brian, and I look forward to the days when you have 54 retired at Soldier Field and when you get to put on the gold Hall of Fame jacket.
• The Texans were able to pull Ed Reed away from the Ravens with a three-year offer. Sure Reed is older and isn’t the athletic freak he was earlier in his career. But he’ll make up for that by bringing leadership and swagger to a Texans locker room that desperately needs it.
• What happens when you haven’t seen a single college basketball game all season and you try to fill out a bracket? You end up picking Pittsburgh to make the Final Four :-\
• I will actually watch college hoops next year when Kentucky unveils its super team featuring perhaps the best recruiting class in the sport’s history. I have watched first-hand two of those players – Aaron and Andrew Harrison – and I can tell you they are going to be awesome in college.
In fact, I’m going to call it now. Kentucky is going to win the NCAA Championship next year. And it won’t even be close.
• At this point, is there even a question that Miami is going to win the NBA title? Short of a LeBron or Chris Bosh injury, I don’t see the Heat losing more than three games in the entire playoffs.
• My MLB predictions are coming up next week. Prior to last year, I picked San Francisco to beat Detroit in the World Series. I highly doubt I will be able to match that feat of correctly picking the champs.
• Also coming up next week is my review of the new Bon Jovi album. You may be shocked at what I have to say.
Bear Down and Keep the Faith!