By Brad Biggs Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Brian Urlacher, former Chicago Bears All-Pro linebacker, announced his retirement from the NFL via Twitter on Wednesday, three days shy of his 35th birthday.
Urlacher was an unsigned free agent but spent his entire career in Chicago and retires as a Bear.
“After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made a decision to retire,” Urlacher wrote in a statement.
“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 a 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear. I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped 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 this great game, but I leave it with no regrets.”
Appearing Wednesday on radio on the Dan Patrick Show, Urlacher said his body was telling him it was time to retire and that he didn’t want to wear another jersey.
“I decided I didn’t want to play for anybody else,” Urlacher said. “I still have a ton of respect for the Bears. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but I played 13 years for one of the best franchises in NFL history. I’m very proud of that, and I’m happy I won’t have to wear another jersey.”
Urlacher said he didn’t see the point of playing another season.
“Fourteen years, 13 … not a big difference. I played all 13 with the same team and I’m proud of that.”
Urlacher played 182 regular-season games with the Bears and made reels of highlights that could fill a series of specials for NFL Films. He helped lead the franchise to Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season, the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance other than the 1985 team. He became the face of the franchise shortly after being drafted in the first round in 2000 from New Mexico.
Urlacher helped redefine the middle linebacker position and his freakish athletic ability at 6-foot-4, 258 pounds made him ideal as the leader of the defense that flourished under defensive coordinator Greg Blache at the start of his career and later after Lovie Smith took over.
Urlacher’s contract expired after the 2012 season. The Bears announced in March that Urlacher and the team had made the decision to go in a different direction after a new contract could not be worked out for the free agent. General manager Phil Emery was sensitive to the matter and said the team would not “slight” Urlacher.
Perhaps stung at the time, Urlacher said the club’s dealing with him were more of an ultimatum than anything else. No other offers, if there were any, became public.
So, Urlacher walks away from the NFL following a distinguished career in which he was a longtime captain for the Bears, winning NFL defensive rookie of the year and defensive player of the year honors.
“We knew he was a phenomenal athlete just from his workouts and his combine,” Blache said of when the team drafted Urlacher. “But even then you didn’t realize what you had until you got him in the building and you realized how intelligent he was, how personable.
“He was a freak. He could do things we didn’t know he could do before we got him. We started him out at Sam linebacker. We knew he would be a middle linebacker. We knew that when we got him. But we were afraid to put him right in the middle right away with all of that traffic and people in front when he was used to playing 15 yards off the ball.
“It is a different world when you put him in tight so we were going to use him in the middle on nickel and try to play him at Sam. But we had Rosy (Colvin) at the time who was doing a better job so we decided to just go ahead and fast-forward his progress and go ahead and move him to the middle (after Barry Minter was injured) and baptize him under fire.”
In the short term, Blache realized Urlacher was probably the finest player he had ever worked with in a career that spanned more than two decades in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have traded him for anyone at that position to be quite honest with you,” Blache said. “After having worked with him, there isn’t a player that played that position that I would have swapped him for.
“He was so smart that if we got in a situation where they were going hurry up or whatever or we didn’t know what they were doing with the personnel exactly on the other side, he could take over for you and handle it because he knew the gameplan and he knew what we wanted to do in down and distance.
“He spent a great deal of time in the film room. He spent a great deal of time going over his gameplan. Nothing was haphazard to Brian. He was professional and he was always on time and on the same page with you. It got scary sometimes.”
Teammate Lance Briggs was asked Tuesday at Halas Hall about taking over the defensive calls in the defense now run by new coordinator Mel Tucker.
“It’s very different,” Briggs said. “I didn’t call the play before, and now I’m calling the plays. I just have a lot of respect; I’ve been spoiled for the last 10 years.”
Later, Briggs was asked about Urlacher finding work with a new team.
“Have a good one,” Briggs said as he walked away.
Perhaps Briggs knew then what everyone else has now learned.