The Chicago Bears are known for developing some of the best linebackers in NFL history.
Middle linebackers specifically seem to be the Bears’ specialty.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Chicago had Dick Butkus.
Then, Mike Singletary played for the team in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As if those names alone weren’t enough, Brian Urlacher was drafted by the franchise in 2000.
— NFL Rumors (@nflrums) July 3, 2022
Urlacher was a Swiss Army knife at the University of New Mexico playing multiple positions for the Lobos.
After joining Chicago, the team put him at middle linebacker and the rest is history.
During his 13-year career, Urlacher was an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Pro, Pro Bowler, and appeared in a Super Bowl.
His combination of speed and strength helped Urlacher keep pace with the NFL’s fastest athletes while also racking up tons of tackles.
By the time he retired, NFL teams were trying to find a Brian Urlacher of their own.
This is his story.
Raised in New Mexico
Brian Urlacher was born on May 25, 1978 in Pasco, Washington.
Urlacher’s roots were modest from the very beginning and his life became more difficult when his parents separated.
At the time, Urlacher was in elementary school and his mother, Lavoyda, older sister, Sheri, and younger brother, Casey, moved to Lovington, New Mexico to be near Lavoyda’s parents.
“When we moved to Lovington,” Urlacher said in 2018, “we had nothing. … That’s not true. We had each other.”
As the family settled in the Lovington community, Urlacher only had one pair of pants and shoes that he wore every day.
To pass the time while their mother worked three jobs, Brian and Casey began playing sports.
“We played sports. We played street football and played basketball, ran track, played baseball, all that good stuff,” Urlacher said.
It was in the midst of the dirt, dust, and oil fields of Southeastern New Mexico that Urlacher molded himself into an athletic marvel.
During his prep career at Lovington High School, Urlacher played basketball, track and football.
Welcome to the Brian Urlacher indoor football practice field in Lovington, NM. You should see the weight room! pic.twitter.com/jNLQWwvN
— Adam Rogge (@VarangianGuard) October 25, 2011
He proved to be a natural in all three sports, and at one point, qualified for no less than seven events for a state track meet.
On the hardwood, Urlacher loved the fire of competition so much that he asked his basketball coach to yell more.
“It makes me play harder,” Urlacher told his coach.
The yelling must have worked as Urlacher averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds as a senior.
Urlacher’s track and basketball bona fides were well-known, but his play on the gridiron was what got him noticed by local colleges.
After bulking up in the weight room and undergoing a growth spurt, the Wildcats coaches used the 6’4, 200+ pound Urlacher everywhere.
On offense, he played running back and receiver, earning an All-State designation as a pass catcher.
On defense, he was a defensive back (another All-State nod) and returned punts and kicks on special teams.
As Brian Urlacher enters the @ProFootballHOF today, his high school coach reflects on his prep career as a safety, WR and on special teams. "There’s very few players in the Hall of Fame and for the community of Lovington to have one is special."https://t.co/1aHTqEZ4nc pic.twitter.com/sinDGSu0nP
— NFHS (@NFHS_Org) August 4, 2018
With Urlacher playing on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats thrived and ended the 1995 season with a perfect 14-0 record.
Lovington won the class 3-A state title that year with a dominating 24-7 win over Silver High School.
The title brought even more attention from nearby college coaches at New Mexico and New Mexico State who hoped Urlacher would don their uniform.
Urlacher decided to accept a scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
As he headed off for college, the citizens of Lovington knew Urlacher was on the fast track to greatness.
“He had that image. He had that sense of urgency, and you knew when he’d take over,” Lovington resident Willie Jackson said.
Slow Start for Urlacher
After playing everywhere on the field in high school, New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione decided Urlacher was best suited as a linebacker.
The Lobos went 6-5 in 1996 and 9-4 in 1997 while Urlacher primarily came off the bench.
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) February 15, 2021
Franchione then left the program after the ‘97 campaign to coach at TCU and former UCLA defensive coordinator Rocky Long took over.
Long’s defensive philosophy was to attack at all times and his defensive schemes used a “rover” who would cover all parts of the field.
When the coach watched Urlacher in practice, he saw an athlete that could become the Lobo’s rover.
In fact, Long called the position the “Lobo” back, and essentially, Urlacher would play as a hybrid of linebacker and free safety.
The change turned Urlacher into one of the most dynamic college players in the nation.
Urlacher Shines for the Lobos
Once he got the hang of his new position, Urlacher took off like a rocket.
In 1998 and 1999, New Mexico didn’t fare well under Long and went a combined 7-16.
However, Urlacher was a force to be reckoned with.
Brian Urlacher played FS & LB for New Mexico. That's right Urlacher was a Safety some in college pic.twitter.com/t0MFSZ8E9i
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) July 31, 2015
As a junior, he led the nation with 178 tackles, which also set a Lobos single-season record.
Urlacher was named an All-American and a first-team Western Athletic Conference player.
Then, during his senior year in 1999, Urlacher led New Mexico with 154 tackles, five forced fumbles, and seven passes broken up.
Long also used Urlacher on offense and special teams occasionally.
Although Urlacher only caught seven passes on offense, six were for touchdowns.
He also netted 196 total punt return yards that included 158 yards on 10 returns alone in 1999 (a 15.8 yards per return average).
“It was important to Brian these last couple of years for the focus to be on the New Mexico football team,” said former position coach Mark Parks in 2000. “He fought hard for it not to become the Brian Urlacher Show.”
Despite his humility, Urlacher was selected as the Mountain West Conference (New Mexico switched divisions before the 1999 season) Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American.
Additionally, he was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football and finished 12th in the Heisman Trophy race.
Urlacher also played in the 2000 Senior Bowl and was awarded the Defensive MVP.
— New Mexico Lobos (@UNMLOBOS) January 9, 2017
As a collegian, Urlacher had 442 tackles and 11 forced fumbles.
Both stats are currently in the top five in Lobos history.
In 2013, New Mexico retired Urlacher’s number 44 and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Urlacher becomes a Bear
As Urlacher prepared to become an NFL player before the 2000 draft, he gained 20 pounds and showed up at the draft combine in February ready to show teams his stuff.
At the event, Urlacher weighed in at 258 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, and had a 34-inch vertical jump.
Chicago Bears scout John Paul Young watched tape of Urlacher at New Mexico and was stunned by what he saw.
“They had him playing free safety,” Young said. “He’d come from the weak side, pass the weak linebacker, the middle linebacker and the strong linebacker and make the play on the line of scrimmage on the other side. I thought, ‘Goodness gracious, this guy’s got a nose for the ball.’ I told Mark [Hatley, Bears vice-president of personnel], ‘I’m not big on projecting kids, but we need to look at this kid as a linebacker.'”
When Young passed along his information about Urlacher to Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, the coach thought Young made a mistake.
“When they first told me about him, I thought they were joking,” Blache said shortly after Urlacher was drafted. “Sometimes scouts get a little carried away with what they see. But watching the guy on film, he’s very impressive. As big a man as he is, he can really run. He’s got exceptional speed for a linebacker.”
Chicago had the ninth overall selection in the first round and the team liked Urlacher, receiver Plaxico Burress, and running back Thomas Jones.
Draft night flashback — With the 9th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft the Chicago Bears selected Lobo Consensus 1st Team All-American and future Hall of Fame LB Brian Urlacher. Urlacher remains the UNM single season tackles leader with 178 which also led the nation in 1998. pic.twitter.com/OSYLnZK0Kj
— Lobo Football History (@LoboFBHistory) April 30, 2021
Burress and Jones were both taken before the Bears’ spot.
That made Urlacher the ninth pick of the 2000 NFL Draft.
“Fate seemed to work in this direction,” then-Bears head coach Dick Jauron said at the time. “To have this linebacker come to this franchise in this city, I think it was a great thing for us.”
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Blache initially penciled in Urlacher as a “SAM” (strongside) linebacker for his rookie year.
That changed in Week 1 when Urlacher struggled against the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was terrible at ‘Sam.’ Terrible,” Urlacher revealed in 2022. “I kept [messing] up. I knew what I was doing but I couldn’t do it, though. Technique-wise, I was so bad. Then, third down I was playing ‘Mike’ (middle linebacker), I was good to go, just run around, whatever. Then, in Week 2, we played Tampa Bay and Barry Minter gets hurt (in) the second quarter. Hurts his back. (Defensive coordinator) Greg Blache goes, ‘Go play Mike.’ I’m like, ‘I’ve never played Mike.’ He goes, ‘Just run to the ball. You know what Sam does. Fit where he doesn’t and just run to the football.’ And I started every game since then.”
Urlacher didn’t have to think twice about finding the ball carrier as the new middle linebacker for Chicago.
Although the team won only five games in 2000, Urlacher played like a man possessed.
— 247Highlights (@247Highlights_) October 7, 2014
He started 14 games as a rookie and tallied 124 combined tackles, eight sacks, five passes defended and two interceptions.
Both his tackles and sacks totals led the team and set a franchise record for a rookie.
Urlacher became the third Chicago Bear (after Wally Chambers and Mark Carrier) to be named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl.
Urlacher Helps Propel the Bears
He was only a second year player, but Urlacher quickly established himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL in 2001.
During a Week 4 contest against the Atlanta Falcons and speedy quarterback Michael Vick, Urlacher was a one-man force.
Vick was known as an athlete who could use his skills to elude defenders at the blink of an eye.
That wasn’t the case with the equally quick Urlacher, who confined Vick to 18 rushing yards and sacked the QB as well.
Urlacher also scooped up a Vick fumble later in the game and returned it 90 yards for a score, leading to a resounding 31-3 blowout.
In Week 15, the Bears set up for a field goal attempt against the Washington Redskins.
After the snap, Chicago punter Brad Maynard (who was holding on the attempt) suddenly stood up and passed the ball to Urlacher who had acted like a blocker.
𝐃𝐞𝐜𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟑, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟏
Brian Urlacher catches a 27 yard touchdown pass from Brad Maynard as the Bears fake field goal attempt works to perfection.pic.twitter.com/RfvO1AzcBJ
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) December 23, 2022
The fake kick resulted in a 27-yard touchdown for Urlacher and gave the Bears a 20-15 win.
Chicago went 13-3 in Urlacher’s second season while the linebacker had 118 combined tackles, six sacks, one touchdown reception, one fumble return for a touchdown (which led the NFL), eight passes defended and three interceptions.
The Bears lost in the Divisional round to Philadelphia while Urlacher was voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and selected for the first of four first-team All-Pro nods.
Defensive Player of the Year
Monsters Are Real.
Who was the best linebacker to wear a Bears Jersey?
• Dick Butkus
• Mike Singletary
• Brian Urlacher
• Other pic.twitter.com/QHqgeLARb5
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) November 11, 2019
Urlacher backed up their claims when he posted an NFL-best 117 solo tackles and 153 total stops that year along with an interception and 4.5 sacks.
In 2003, he had 115 total tackles followed by 72 tackles in an injury-shortened 2004.
2004 was also the same season that new coach Lovie Smith came to Chicago.
Smith helped the team rebound from a 5-11 record in 2004 to an 11-5 record in 2005.
Urlacher benefitted from a fully healthy season in ‘05 by compiling 122 total tackles, six sacks, and five passes defended.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Chicago Bears legend Brian Urlacher!
🐻 8x Pro Bowler
🐻 2005 Defensive Player of the Year
🐻 1,040 career solo tackles
🐻 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼 pic.twitter.com/S1cKUGgyG0
— ♑KD314♑ (@kendell_m) May 26, 2019
He was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts and added to the Pro Bowl roster.
Urlacher helped Chicago lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game and created the most turnovers in the league.
However, despite Urlacher’s seven tackles and one pick, the defense couldn’t contain the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional round and lost, 29-21.
Before the 2006 season began, the Bears assembled what they hoped would be the final pieces of a Super Bowl contender.
With their second round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Chicago selected University of Miami defensive back and return specialist Devin Hester.
Bears fans and media alike dismissed the selection with disdain believing the team should have added offensive help.
The Chicago offense already had a solid core in quarterback Rex Grossman, receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, and running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson.
As the season progressed, the Hester skeptics became true believers.
In his first game as an NFL player, Hester returned a punt for a touchdown.
Then, during a game against the New York Giants in Week 10, he returned an NFL record-tying 108-yard missed field goal by the Giants for a score.
By the end of his rookie year, the speedy Hester had returned six combined punt and kick returns for touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Urlacher piled up 142 combined tackles, nine passes defended and three interceptions.
2006 NFC Champion Brian Urlacher pic.twitter.com/Try4HQNTSB
— Chicago Bears Fan 4 Ever (@CBF4E_CHICAGO) May 20, 2020
One of his best days as a pro came in Week 6 versus Arizona.
At one point during the contest, the Bears were down by 20 points before staging an epic comeback.
Urlacher played lights out football and had a career-high 25 tackles to lead Chicago to an improbable 24-23 victory.
“We watched the film and everybody was saying that he just turned into the Incredible Hulk the last four minutes of the game, just killing people and running over and tackling whoever had the ball,” said Hester.
After the game, Cardinals head coach Dennis Green exploded and told the media, “…they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”
Super Bowl XLI
Chicago played well in 2006 and ended the year with a 13-3 record.
In the playoffs, the team dispatched Seattle in overtime before rolling over New Orleans, 39-14, in the NFC Championship game.
The Bears then faced Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
Things looked positive for Chicago initially when Hester took the opening kickoff and returned it 92-yards for a touchdown.
Of course Devin Hester took the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl to the house.
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) January 22, 2019
That marked a first in Super Bowl history and also set game records for the quickest lead (14 seconds) and quickest touchdown.
However, after the Bears took a 14-6 lead late in the first quarter, Manning took over and guided Indy to a 29-17 win.
The Bears’ Super Bowl high was followed by three years of mediocre football.
From 2007-2009, Chicago failed to make the playoffs and never won more than nine games in a season.
Urlacher’s 2007 season was fantastic as he had 123 total tackles, five sacks, a career-high 12 passes defended, and a career-high five picks.
One of his interceptions came in a Week 16 game against Green Bay and quarterback Brett Favre.
This was the 1st defensive TD for the Bears against the Packers since 2007 when Brian Urlacher returned a Brett Favre interception for a TD. pic.twitter.com/qcJdKJIacU
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 21, 2016
At one point in the contest, Urlacher intercepted a Favre pass and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.
In 2008, Urlacher had 93 tackles and two picks for 9-7 Chicago.
That was followed by a missed season when Urlacher was injured in Week 1 of 2009 and was forced to miss the remainder of the year.
The Bears Rebound
After three years of sub par performance, Chicago finally lifted itself out of lethargy and won 11 games in 2010 aided in part by free agent signee Julius Peppers.
Urlacher returned from his wrist injury in 2009 to post 126 tackles, four sacks, 10 passes defended, and one interception.
“I feel more powerful,” Urlacher said after returning from injury. “I’m running to the football, my keys are a lot more clear now, and I’m playing downhill… So I think it did help my body kind of calm down and relax a little bit.”
He was then voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 2006 season.
— 🧦🧢Extremely #PINdejo Eric 🐻⬇️ (@DyeMasterDiscs) December 20, 2020
The Bears made the playoffs and beat Seattle in the Divisional round before facing intra-division rival Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.
Unfortunately, Chicago wouldn’t return to the Super Bowl as the Packers triumphed, 21-14.
One season later, Chicago limped through an 8-8 season as Urlacher returned to his eighth Pro Bowl with 102 tackles, a fumble recovery for a score, and three picks.
Then, in 2012, the linebacker had a pick-six against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 and had 68 total tackles for the 10-6 Bears.
He was injured during a Week 13 contest against Seattle and missed the rest of the year.
After the season, Chicago announced that Urlacher would not be returning in 2013.
Urlacher countered that the front office had no intention of re-signing him.
— Brendan Sugrue (@BrendanSugrue) March 20, 2023
In late May of 2013, Urlacher retired after 13 years.
Urlacher had 1,361 combined tackles, 41.5 sacks, 16 fumble recoveries including two returned for touchdowns, 11 forced fumbles, 90 passes defended, and 22 interceptions for 324 return yards and two touchdowns.
He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and played in one Super Bowl.
Urlacher was later added to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and selected as 100 of the Greatest Bears of All-Time.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) August 5, 2018
In 2018, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Urlacher in his first year of eligibility.
Life After Football
Urlacher was a popular athlete during his playing days and continued to be popular after retiring.
During and after his career, Urlacher donated thousands of dollars for athletic equipment and facilities for Lovington High School and the University of New Mexico.
He has appeared in several television commercials for various products and has been a spokesman for a number of companies.
Between 2013 and 2014, Urlacher was an analyst for NFL games on Fox Sports 1.
Urlacher then surprised the public in 2014 when he appeared with a full head of hair.
He had played with a bald pate during his playing career, but partnered with the company RESTORE Hair and had hair transplant surgery.
I don't trust Brian Urlacher with hair. pic.twitter.com/FX96M0G4PS
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) September 3, 2017
In 2020, during the Black Lives Matter protests and NBA players boycotting games due to the acts of police, Urlacher fired off an Instagram message that received national attention.
“Brett Favre played the MNF game the day his dad died [sic], threw 4 TDs in the first half and was a legend for playing in the face of adversity,” the post on the verified 54Urlacher account read. “NBA players boycott the playoffs because a dude reaching for a knife, wanted on [a] felony sexual assault warrant, was shot by police.”
The public also noticed that Urlacher “liked” a post that supported Kyle Rittenhouse with the tagline “Patriot Lives Matter.”
Rittenhouse shot and killed two men during the Kenosha, Wisconsin civil unrest in 2020.
“The social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization.”
Bears distance themselves after Brian Urlacher posts racially insensitive response on Instagram to the police shooting of Jacob Blake pic.twitter.com/uhz0ZreNfX
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 28, 2020
Shortly after Urlacher’s posts, the Bears responded with a message of their own.
“The social media posts in no way reflect the values or opinions of the Chicago Bears organization.”
Urlacher is currently married to his second wife, Jennipher Frost, and he has three children.