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updated: 3/21/2013 5:30 AM

Urlacher great player but difficult to embrace

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  • Unlike 2008, linebacker Brian Urlacher just didn't have any leverage this time around when it came to contract talks.

    Unlike 2008, linebacker Brian Urlacher just didn't have any leverage this time around when it came to contract talks.
    Associated Press/2011 file photo


I expected to be emotional whenever the Bears parted ways with Brian Urlacher.

Indifference reigned instead on Wednesday: If he had stayed, OK; when he left, OK.

Tell me what I'm missing if I'm wrong about Urlacher, but this wasn't exactly Walter Payton or Michael Jordan or Bobby Hull leaving town on his way to the Hall of Fame. Or in Bears middle linebacker terms, it wasn't Bill George or Dick Butkus or Mike Singletary.

For some reason it was just Brian Urlacher.

(For the record I rank them Butkus, Urlacher, George and Singletary.)

Normally I'm partial to athletes I ushered in, and I was at Halas Hall in 2000 when the Bears drafted this hulking defensive player out of New Mexico.

Urlacher was so unique, a 245-pound college safety projected as one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL. When the league advertises athletes, they're advertising Brian Urlacher.

Dick Jauron was the Bears' head coach back then and I asked him: "Do you think you'll move him around in your defense?"

Urlacher seemed like a natural to play everywhere from middle linebacker to outside linebacker to safety to defensive end with his hand down. Drop him into pass coverage, plug him into gaps to stop the run, blitz him up the middle, rush him from the edge, move him around so the offense has no idea where he's coming from.

"Not right away," Jauron said, meaning like any rookie Urlacher would have enough to learn at one position. As far as my uneducated football eye could tell, the Bears never did do as much with No. 54 as they could have.

Still, Urlacher did enough as a middle linebacker to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How good was he? Freakishly good.

Yet I didn't choke up or break down or tear up or fall down when the news of Urlacher's departure arrived.

While it was easy to wrap my head around Urlacher as a player all these years, it was difficult to wrap my arms around him as a guy.

It always seemed that Urlacher was snarly when he didn't need anything and charming when he wanted something like commercial endorsements.

If the Bears stuck it to Urlacher in contract talks this time, it was fair play after he whined them into a 2008 contract extension worth $18 million for one season.

Leverage is everything in the NFL. When Urlacher was a premier player, he could dictate salary terms. Now that he's 35 years old, can't run like he used to and has become injury-prone, the Bears could dictate salary terms.

Perhaps that's why it's difficult to feel sorry for Urlacher -- if $18 million was the right number five years ago, $2 million was this week.

Over the years Urlacher wanted privacy but did so much to attract attention, from dating Paris Hilton and Jenny McCarthy to going to court in a case involving a child he fathered out of wedlock.

Bears fans sided with Urlacher just as they do with any football player who can run down ball carriers from sideline to sideline.

Yes, Chicago loved Urlacher. He was the face, body and shaved head of the Bears for 13 seasons. The name "Urlacher" fit the "Grabowski" image Mike Ditka pinned on the franchise.

More recently, though, many of those same fans turned on Urlacher after he criticized them for booing the Bears and declared that he doesn't care what they think.

So Brian Urlacher is gone for now but will come back to the Bears family some day when he stops feeling disrespected.

The McCaskeys will arrange a proper tribute for one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Maybe he'll be easier to embrace by then.

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