The NFL Draft has become a huge production. In 2000, the televised event was so small that the NFL only invited a small number of players on site to watch the draft unfold.
Brian Urlacher was not one of them. Instead, he watched from his home in Albuquerque not aware that he was about to step on the road to Canton.
When they called his name in the 2000 Draft, Urlacher said he didn’t know much about the Chicago Bears.
“I didn’t know anything about the franchise. I didn’t know their traditions or nothing like that. Urlacher said. ” I wasn’t a Bears fan back then. I was a Cowboys fan. I grew up in New Mexico… It’s either Cowboys, Arizona or Denver. My dad loved the Cowboys so I didn’t know anything about the Bears. I knew about Butkus, Singletary.”
The only player Urlacher really knew about was Walter Payton.
“In my mind when you think of the Bears you think of Walter Payton.”
Now when you think of you Bears, you also think Brian Urlacher.
During his rookie season, then starting middle linebacker Barry Minter was injured, which created an opportunity for Urlacher. One that became permanent.
Urlacher says that he started every game during his rookie year, but had no idea what he was doing the first game.
“The defenses are so complex in the NFL, especially for a young guy. There’s so much going on. If they move we have to check this that and the other. I didn’t realize that right away. Your linebacker has to be so exact. You have to know exactly what everyone else is doing, especially middle linebacker,” Urlacher said. “I didn’t know that right away, but I always say after playing my seventh or eighth game I knew our scheme. I knew for the most part what I was supposed to be doing and I just got better and better after that.”
He also says he acted on instinct and led the Bears in 124 tackles and eight sacks.
The Associated Press and Sporting News named Urlacher Defensive Rookie of the Year. The late great John Madden also selected Urlacher for his All-Madden Team.
Van Tate: Were you surprised about the All-Madden Team?
Brian Urlacher: Heck yeah I was surprised. Look at the other good players, linebackers in the NFL, and he chose me. I was happy about that.
It was only the beginning of a career that would one day have Urlacher’s name mentioned in the same breath as other Chicago Bears legends like Dick Butkus and Mike Singleterry. In 2005, Urlacher added becoming the NFL Defensive Player of the Year onto his resume.
Durning that season he had 121 tackles. The Bears would use the momentum of 2005 to win the NFC Championship in 2006.
“Looking back on my career, that’s my favorite game. We were playing at Soldier Field against the Saints. We’re beating the dog out of them in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, it starts snowing. Our fans weren’t leaving…,” Urlacher said. “Whatever the final score was it doesn’t matter, our fans weren’t leaving. They wanted to see us get that [George] Halas Trophy.”
The NFC Championship victory put the Bears in the Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts. This would be Urlacher’s first and only trip to the game as a player.
Urlacher set a franchise record with 1,353 tackles and played a total of 13 seasons in the NFL.
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