I’d like to say that when I look back on this offseason, the highlight will be a humble man trying to sell socks. Unfortunately, nature and the evil hand of time has stepped in, and over a stretch of just a few months two of the league’s greatest middle linebackers have retired. First, it was Ray Lewis, and now Brian Urlacher.
After Urlacher walked away from a contract offer from the Bears to become a free agent, there was only mild interest in his services on the open market. Ultimately, that along with his decline over the past few seasons led to his decision to retire which he announced today. It’s a decision that’s felt inevitable for a while.
Here’s his statement:
“After spending a lot time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made the decision to retire. Although I could continue playing, I’m not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that’s up to my standards. When considering this, along with the fact that I could retire after 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear.
“I want to thank all the people in my life that have help me along the way. I will miss my teammates, my coaches, and the great Bears fans. I’m proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss the great game, but I leave with no regrets.”
Urlacher is choosing to see his glass as half filled with liquid, which is the natural instinct of both an athlete, and on a more basic level, a person who’s walking away from the only profession he’s ever known. A rare and unique profession too which requires intense and physically punishing training, which is equaled by the routine abuse players are exposed to every Sunday. But it’s the build up to those Sundays — both throughout the offseason, and weekly during the season — that’s the root of the adrenaline infusion, and the abrupt disappearance of that energy is what can make retirement a scary thought.
Realistically, though, while Bears fans will rightly celebrate Urlacher’s career, he didn’t actively choose to play for only one team. Had the situation and — much more importantly — the money been right, he would have signed on for a brief twilight stint somewhere. There were multiple links to the Vikings, but in the end instead of signing an aging slow guy, Minnesota is content with sliding Erin Henderson over to play the middle, an unnatural position.
He could have waited for someone to bust something during OTAs, or later in August, but that would have been an even less dignified end to what was a legendary career. Fading in a different NFL outpost is fine, and it’s been done before. But being relegated to a meager replacement is a tough way to go.
So what do we see when we look back on his career, and Urlacher’s time in Chicago? You’ll remember the whole lot of hurt that Urlacher dealt out in abundance, which could make you forget how good he was in coverage.
In addition to his seven seasons with at least 90 tackles (1,052 in total), 11 total forced fumbles, and 41.5 sacks, he also recorded 85 passes defensed, with a single-season high of 12. His combination of pass coverage ability and instincts to diagnose a run and fill a hole quickly puts Urlacher in rather unique company, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Since the sacks stat became official in 1982, Urlacher is one of four players in league history to record at least 40 career sacks along with 20 interceptions. He’s also one of only seven players to win both the defensive rookie of the year and player of the year awards.
He was that damn good. He was also a crazy man, and an innovator who tried to invent rules in the middle of a game. Yes, he was truly ahead of his time.