After they shot the sheriff the deputy didn’t have much of a chance.
Two and-a-half months after firing head coach Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears announced on Wednesday that the team was unable to agree on a new deal with All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher and thus, after 13 seasons, #54 has been told to clean out his locker.
Urlacher’s departure is not a shock. Due to age, injuries and perhaps the sequestration, he is not nearly the player he once was, thus giving the new coaching staff and management a perfect opportunity to tear up that shag carpet that the previous owner insisted was holding up the walls.
It’s going to be weird seeing the Bears take the field without Urlacher, a man who has been the face and barbed wire bicep tattoo of the franchise since 2000. The Bears now seem to be a team without leadership and identity but they do have the $2 million they were willing to pay Urlacher for one season. Brian believes he is worth more than that but the Bears don’t think so and neither does any other team and once the Bears realized they were in a bidding war with themselves they quickly put away the wallet and told the icon to take it or leave it.
He left it.
Urlacher says he still wants to play and if he is healthy he can certainly help a lot of teams, at least on first and second down. It creates a strange situation. Urlacher didn’t want to play in Chicago for $2 million but now will certainly be offered even less than that to play for a new team in a strange city with different rules about whether the ketchup is kept in the refrigerator and the peanut butter is stored in the pantry.
Urlacher continued Chicago’s long legacy of great linebackers following in the footsteps of Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Doug Buffone, Dick Butkus and Bill George and played alongside another Pro Bowl regular, Lance Briggs. Butkus was the best of that bunch and Urlacher likely ranks second, even ahead of Singletary. But Singletary does have one thing Urlacher never will: a Super Bowl ring that says “Chicago” on it. Urlacher did come close, leading the Bears to the big game in 2006 but fell short against Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Urlacher’s legacy, if not his current employment status, would be a little different if the Bears had won that game. Or maybe Brian would still have a home at Halas Hall if he had just been a little more fan friendly. Just last season Urlacher criticized Bears fans for booing the team and despite his dominance on the field, Urlacher never really seemed beloved off of it. Perhaps if Urlacher were more of a fan favorite the Bears would have been more inclined to keep him. Or maybe if Urlacher related more to fans he would have been more willing to accept $2 million to play football for one more season.
Whatever. Cuddly guys don’t make good linebackers. Bears fans want their guys to be truculent and true. Everything else is just icing. Brian Urlacher ran fast, hit hard and played to the whistle. He was an extraordinary athlete, an unquestioned team leader and one of the best Bears of them all.
But at some point even the best have to say goodbye.