Brian Urlacher’s retirement marks end of an era

First there was Dick Butkus. Then there was Mike Singletary.

Now, Chicago can add Brian Urlacher to its Mount Rushmore of generational linebackers.

An era came to an end May 22 when Urlacher announced his retirement via Twitter. After a dramatic few weeks when the 13-year pro’s status was still in the air, Urlacher gained a few more fans when he decided to retire after a career with one ballclub.

Urlacher’s career numbers are mind-boggling. He started 180 games in 13 seasons, was elected to eight Pro Bowls, piled up a team-record 1,779 tackles, recorded 41.5 sacks, nabbed 22 interceptions, recovered 16 fumbles and forced 11. He played the third most games in Chicago Bears history, and leaves as one of the most decorated and most beloved players in the history of the franchise.

Urlacher is the rare player who not only retires with one club, but retires on generally good terms with the club. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing at the end – Urlacher denied a contract offer from the Bears because he thought he deserved more money – but in the end, cooler heads prevailed and Urlacher realized he’d rather retire as a Bear than toil as a probably backup with another team.

Herein lies the Urlacher everyone knows and loves. The man was a great player, but a class act as well. He never got into trouble off the field and ultimately felt his legacy as a Bear was more important than anything else.

During Urlacher’s career, the Bears finished in the top five in the NFL in defense five times, and no team forced more turnovers than Chicago in that span. His impact was universal across the field. He was a tackling machine who was impossible to run consistently on, and was just as good when it came to covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Simply put, he was one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL.

Is Urlacher a Hall of Famer? Some may point to his early retirement as an argument against his candidacy but make no mistake: he’ll have a bust in Canton someday soon, immortalized forever next to the other greats from the incomparable class of Bears linebackers who have shaped and redefined the position for decades.