Brian Urlacher made it official Wednesday, hanging up his cleats after 13 seasons with the same NFL franchise. The middle linebacker racked up numerous accolades as the face of the Chicago Bears for more than a decade, including the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, the 2005 AP Defensive Player of the Year award and eight Pro Bowl selections. He also helped the franchise reach Super Bowl XLI in 2007.
As he walks away from the game, we ask: Is Brian Urlacher a lock to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Urlacher was great, but his Hall call will come after LewisThere is no doubt that Brian Urlacher was one of the most athletic middle linebackers to have played in the history of the NFL, but the sheer timing of his retirement is going to have the biggest impact on his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
The fact that Urlacher will become eligible in the same year as Ray Lewis most assuredly guarantees that Urlacher won't be a first-ballot candidate. The statistical comparison is obviously uneven, and Lewis has two Super Bowl rings, while Urlacher has none. Most importantly, however, Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens franchise. When you think of Baltimore, you think of Lewis.
On the flip side, not only is Urlacher not the best player in the history of the Bears, he isn't even the best linebacker. That's not a knock against Urlacher, it's just a reflection of how his legacy stacks up against Lewis'.
Definitely a lock, but will he enter in Year 1?The only question about Brian Urlacher's Hall of Fame candidacy is whether he'll get in during his first year of eligibility, alongside Ray Lewis. I don't think there's any doubt he will get in eventually. The résumé is there, what with four first-team All-Pro nods, as well as Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Urlacher will pass guys like Derrick Brooks because the Bears icon defined the Tampa 2 middle linebacker spot.
Urlacher's career longevity wasn't as great as some, but few players impacted the game more.
As a truly rare talent, Urlacher deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of FamerBrian Urlacher should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was a dominant football player for a long period of time and helped lead one of the most consistent defensive units of the past decade. The Bears linebacker had a rare skill set that combined elite size, speed and athleticism. Urlacher's incredible range -- against both the pass and the run -- allowed him to stick with tight ends down the hash and also consistently track down running backs while roaming from sideline to sideline.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a place for "rare" talents. That is a perfect description of Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher is a legend in Chicago, but he's no lock for the HallBrian Urlacher was a good player for a long time with the Bears, and easily one of the all-time favorites in the Windy City. But can you really say he is a lock for the Hall of Fame? I don't think you can.
There are a number of things that are going against him. For starters, Urlacher is not the best Bears linebacker of all time. He might even rank fourth on the lists of those who know their franchise history. (Bill George -- Google him.) Critics will also question his durability and the lack of a Super Bowl title. Not to mention, he'll be up against Ray Lewis when both players become eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years.
Will he get into the Hall? Perhaps, but he's no lock.
I questioned his candidacy for years, but Urlacher deserves a yellow blazerHe is a lock. For years, I wondered just how GREAT Urlacher was, even though he made more spectacular plays -- especially in the passing game -- than any inside/middle linebacker in the modern era. He wasn't a facemask-bending tackler, which is why I think some might see his Canton worthiness as suspect, but he was plenty violent enough.
What ultimately swung me into believing that Urlacher is a Hall of Famer? When he was lost for most of the 2009 season. The Bears were a totally different (and much worse-off) team, finishing at 7-9. When Urlacher returned in 2010, Chicago went 11-5 and won the NFC North. Start sizing up the yellow blazer.
This all-time great provided the blueprint for his positionI am not a Hall of Fame voter, and the process is a complex and multi-faceted one. However, if I did have a vote, I'd judge a candidate on this one question: Did his play define an era at his position? Regarding Urlacher, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
During his 13 seasons, no one played middle linebacker like he did. Some might've played it a bit more consistently (Ray Lewis), but no one made more key plays while serving as the focal point of a scheme than Urlacher. Urlacher provided the blueprint for Tampa 2 linebackers. He was the face of his team, and the way he played influenced his teammates to follow suit. For more than a decade, stellar play was a given in the middle in Chicago. He was an all-time great.
Urlacher isn't quite a lead-pipe lock, but I'll be surprised if he doesn't get the nodI hate to call anyone a lock, because I don't have a Hall of Fame vote and thus lack perspective on the difficult task of parsing one man's career from that of another. I can, however, compare Urlacher to a pair of recently retired stars -- and I think he's not quite the lock Ray Lewis is, but he's a better candidate than Ronde Barber. My reasoning here is simple: The bar on a Hall of Famer, to me, is set on whether or not the player was ever considered the best at his position; then you look at how long the player was at that level. For most of the first decade of the new millennium, Urlacher was very much in that argument.
So if I had a vote, I'd put him in. I don't think he's quite one of those guys you don't even need to discuss -- like a Lewis or a Jerry Rice or a John Elway -- but I'll be pretty surprised if he doesn't get in.
I'll take Urlacher (and his unreal range) over first-ballot Hall of Famer Mike SingletaryWhat made Urlacher unique was his height (6-foot-4) and his speed. He played like a 4.5/4.6 guy with his pads on. On the football field, that translated to range, especially in pass coverage when the Bears were in their zone defense. You could put the two safeties deep, and he was like a third safety for you, because it was hard to throw over him. He had great ability to cover ground and possessed terrific instincts as a player.
When I look at a Hall of Famer, I want to say, "This guy was a dominating player at his position, and he set himself apart from his peers at the point in time at which he played." Urlacher did that.
Iconic Bears linebacker Mike Singletary was a great player, but I'd have to rate Urlacher ahead of him, because of his range, his ability to go sideline to sideline and his skills in pass coverage. That doesn't even take into account the fact that Singletary played with a better defense than Urlacher did. Singletary was an automatic first-ballot Hall of Famer, and I think Urlacher is, too.