Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo recently said if he was setting an all-time draft board for middle linebackers, he would place Brian Urlacher third, behind only Ray Lewis and Dick Butkus.
There's an obvious parallel between Urlacher, who announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, and Butkus, who was named to the NFL's 50th and 75h Anniversary All-Time Teams even though he never played a postseason game.
It's a challenge to find two more dominant defensive players who never won a ring than Urlacher and Butkus. The common denominator was a revolving door of incompetence at quarterback, preventing the Bears from taking advantage of first-ballot Hall of Fame talents anchoring their respective defenses.
How many franchises can say their respective all-time greatest quarterback starred in the first half of the 20th century?
Finding a viable passer has been the Bears' long-running problem. Mike Singletary was fortunate to have Jim McMahon and one of history's greatest defenses. Butkus was stuck with the feeble trio of Rudy Bukich, Jack Concannon and Bobby Douglass, and the prime of Urlacher's career was wasted on the likes of Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Chicago's defense and special teams carried the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2007, only to watch Grossman hold the offense hostage in a 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
It's easy to forget after 13 years and multiple knee injuries just how freakishly talented Urlacher was at 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds with 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed.
Before converting to linebacker in the pros, Urlacher played safety, tight end and even kick returner at New Mexico. He was capable of blowing up blocks, chasing down Michael Vick and covering the deep middle while reacting to the short middle in Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense.
The only other players to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards while claiming at least eight Pro Bowl berths are Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor and Charles Woodson. The only middle linebacker in history to match Urlacher's 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions is Lewis. Those accomplishments obviously place Urlacher in rare company.
Urlacher soon will be chiseled into the Monsters of the Midway's linebacker Mount Rushmore, alongside Butkus, Singletary and Bill George. It's a shame the quarterback drought prevented Urlacher's Bears teams from reaching their full potential.