When news broke this morning that linebacker Brian Urlacher was officially retiring after 13 years in the NFL, just one phrase came to mind.
Thank you, Brian Urlacher.
Thank you for continuing the storied tradition of outstanding middle linebackers in Chicago. Thank you providing the Chicago Bears with 13 years of incredible play and top-notch leadership. Thank you for putting up with all the terrible offenses in Chicago and still managing to keep the team competitive. Thank you for helping restore a moribund franchise to respectability.
And last — but certainly not least — thank you for knowing when it was time to walk away. The writing was on the wall already last year, when you struggled through the season after admitting your knee would never be the same. That story continued this offseason, when the Bears announced you would not return.
Bears fans’ worst fears jumped to the forefront when rumors swirled you might sign with the rival Minnesota Vikings, but that died down after they denied being interested. When the Vikings, famous for taking the washed-up leftovers of the rest of the NFC North, said no, it was obviously time to hang them up. But we all know that many players often ignore the signs with delusions of grandeur and wallow in misery at the tail end of their careers.
Bears fans like myself are immensely relieved today that we get to claim you as only our own. You played your entire career for one franchise — no small feat in today’s NFL. As a result, Chicago fans will put you alongside Ditka, Butkus, Payton, and Halas as greats that belong to them and them only. We don’t have to erase the memory of you limping around as a shadow of yourself in a strange uniform, like Bulls fans with Jordan, Packers fans with Favre, San Francisco fans with Montana, and so many others.
I am particularly grateful to not have to go through a Favre-like scenario, where some Green Bay fans are still angry at him years after he retired. Things seemed like they might be headed that way when you had some angry comments on your way out of town, but you softened your stance considerably just a few days later.
Right now it may seem like a bitter pill for you to swallow, but in time you will surely come to realize that this is for the best. You have the privilege few players ever enjoy: to go out (mostly) at the top of your game, having lead an elite defense for the franchise you defined one last time. Surely that’s better than toiling away for a bad team in a strange city for the last couple years!
So once again I say thank you, Brian Urlacher. Thank you for everything.