MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – At exactly 4:13 p.m. Saturday, former Bears star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher answered a knock on his hotel room door that changed his life.
In the hallway stood Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker, who informed Urlacher that he had been voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Celebrating inside the room, Urlacher’s wife, children and close friends captured the unforgettable moment by excitedly taking photos and videos on their cell phones.
Urlacher had also graciously allowed members of the Bears digital media team inside his room, and he opened an exclusive on-camera interview by sharing his thoughts about the news.
“I’m excited,” Urlacher said. “I wasn’t sure how the day was going to go. They really give you no indication going into this process how it’s going to go. But it worked out the way we wanted it to. I’ve got my family here, my best friends, so it’s just an awesome day.”
Selected by the Bears with the ninth pick in the 2000 draft out of New Mexico, Urlacher played all 13 of his illustrious NFL seasons in Chicago. He was voted to eight Pro Bowls, was a four-time first-team All-Pro, was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and was selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
Urlacher helped the Bears win four division titles and reach the Super Bowl in 2006. He started 180 of 182 games played, recording a team-record 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles. The only players who’ve started more games for the Bears are Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton (184) and center Olin Kreutz (183).
Urlacher revealed Saturday that playing his entire career with the Bears is “one of the things I’m most proud of. It’s hard to do this day and age with free agency and injuries, teams releasing you and stuff. It’s a two-way street when it comes to that. We can leave when we’re free agents and they can sign us and they always signed me back.”
Urlacher becomes the 28th Bears player to be voted into the Hall of Fame, most of any NFL team. He joins a Hall of Fame lineage of Bears middle linebackers that includes Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
“I think it will sink in more once the whole process goes down,” Urlacher said. “I didn’t set out to play football to get in the Hall of Fame. That’s not why I played football. I played football because I loved it. It was a great job and I just loved playing the game.”
Urlacher possessed a rare combination of speed, size, athleticism and toughness that enabled him to dominate against the run and the pass. An old-school middle linebacker who arrived in Chicago with a flat-top haircut, Urlacher quickly became a fan favorite and eventually the face of the Bears franchise.
A highly respected team leader, he quietly offered his guidance to all of his teammates, from perennial Pro Bowlers to obscure undrafted rookies. He routinely hosted large team gatherings at his house, gave advice to young teammates and organized paintball outings as well as dodge ball and Wiffle ball games in the locker room.
Urlacher is one of eight members of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. The others are middle linebacker Ray Lewis, receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, safety Brian Dawkins, senior finalists Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile, and contributor finalist Bobby Beathard. The group will be enshrined Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.
When Urlacher was playing at Lovington High School in New Mexico as a teenager, he never dreamed that one day he would become a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
“I thought I was pretty fortunate to get into college and get a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico,” Urlacher said. “And then to play in the NFL was awesome, and now we’re here. It’s just amazing.
“It wasn’t even on my mind when I played [for the Bears]. I didn’t think this would ever be a possibility. So many things have to go right. You have to stay healthy, you have to play well, you’ve got to win some games, do some things. This is the summit of playing football right here.”
Not counting three charter members of the Hall of Fame in George Halas, Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski, Urlacher is just the sixth Bears player to be voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility, joining Butkus, Payton, Singletary, Gale Sayers and George Blanda.
The honor was even more special to Urlacher because he was able to share it with his wife, Jennipher; children Pamela, Riley and Kennedy; lifelong friend Bryce Karger; agent Bill Johnson; and friend and former Bears teammate Jim Cantelupe.
“It’s amazing,” Urlacher said. “These are the people who mean the most to me. I didn’t know what to expect. Because you don’t know if you’re going to get in, you don’t want to bring everyone here and then, oh, you didn’t make it. I’m sure that’s happened to many people and it’s not a situation you want to be in. But I guess you’ve got to take that chance if you want your family to be there when you get the news.”
Urlacher closed with a special message to his ardent supporters.
“Thank you to all the fans,” he said. “I’m not a social media guy, but there have been so many tweets, [Instagram posts], people saying they’re going to riot if I don’t get in. So thank you to the fans, Bears nation and all my friends and family.”