Brian Keith Urlacher (born May 25, 1978) is an American football player for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. Urlacher, a five-time Pro Bowl player, has established himself as one of the NFL's most productive linebackers. He is regarded as one of the best defensive players in the NFL, winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2000 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2005, becoming only the fifth player in NFL history to win both awards, and anchoring the Bears' defense that set several defensive records during his stint. His leadership and aggressive playing style have made him a quintessential icon for the Chicago Bears.
Although Urlacher was partial to attending Texas Tech University, his dreams were cut short after the university failed to offer him a much-needed scholarship. The only two Division I schools that expressed genuine interests in him were the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State. Urlacher ultimately chose to attend the University of New Mexico. After playing only limited time during his early years at the University of New Mexico, Urlacher was converted into a linebacker. Dennis Franchione, the head coach of New Mexicoís football team, had left the team in much disarray after hoping to reconstruct the team. Franchione heavily relied on his upperclassmen to do his bidding on the football field, and often left Urlacher sidelined during most games. After a well-fought season, the University of New Mexico lost a decisive game to the Colorado State University. Despite the loss, the team was invited to play in the Insight.com Bowl, where they lost to the University of Arizona. Following the 1997 season, Franchione then left the University of New Mexico, and was replaced by Rocky Long, the former defensive coordinator of UCLA. While Long failed to distinguish the University of New Mexico as a premier football team, he helped Urlacher earn nationwide attention. By being used as a free safety, receiver, and return specialist, Urlacher was able to re-enter the football scene. Despite having to cope with a losing season, Urlacher had finished his college football career as one of the most talented prospects in the nation.
On the rise
During the 2000 NFL Draft, Urlacher was selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round. Early in the season, Urlacher briefly lost his starting position to Rosevelt Colvin. However, an injury to Barry Minter forced Urlacher to fill in as the teamís starting middle linebacker. After a productive performance against the New York Giants, he became an instant hit, recording over 15 tackles in each of his next two games. Not even a minor injury could prevent Urlacher from claiming the 2000 NFL Rookie of the Year Award , along with an invite to his first Pro Bowl. Over the next two years, Urlacher distinguished himself as one of the league's most productive linebackers by recording 313 tackles, fourteen sacks and five interceptions.
Under the leadership of new coach Dick Jauron, the Bears surprised many with their performance during the 2001 NFL season. Urlacher helped lead the Bears to three come from behind victories, and two shut-outs. During week fifteen of the 2001 season, a fake field goal allowed Bears' punter Brad Maynard to throw a game winning touchdown pass to Urlacher, giving the Bears the National Football Conference's number two playoff seed. Despite their extremely productive defense, the Bears lost the divisional playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles. Unfortunately, the Bearsí 2001 winning season would soon be overshadowed by three years of mediocrity. Prior to the 2004 NFL season, the Bearsí organization fired coach Dick Jauron, and then hired Lovie Smith. After starting the season on the lower rungs of the NFC North, Urlacher suffered several injuries, which sidelined him for a majority of the season.
Monster of the midway
Despite starting the 2005 NFL season on a disastrous note, the Bears rebound by winning eight straight games, and eventually clinching a playoff berth against the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day. Urlacher played crucial role in the Bears' playoff berth; he recorded at least ten tackles in six consecutive games, while leading the team with 121 tackles. Additionally, his leadership and seasoned judgment allowed the Bears' defense to allow the fewest points in the league. By the time the season ended, Urlacher and the Bears had boasted the best league's defense in the entire NFL. Before the regular seasonís end, Urlacher was awarded with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, and an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Urlacher, who ranked among the league's top defensive tiers, received more votes than any other defensive player in the NFL. The following week, the Carolina Panthers defeated the Bears with a score of 29-21 in the divisional playoffs.
The Bears started the 2006 season by winning nine out of eleven games. Urlacher had a prodigious performance against the Arizona Cardinals during a week six Monday Night Football game. After trailing the Cardinals by twenty points, Urlacher helped the Bears engineer a late comeback, by stripping the ball from Edgerrin James, which lead to a pivotal Bearsí recovery and touchdown. The Bears went on to win, 24-23, while Urlacher recorded eighteen total tackles (ten solo). Later, he went on to overcome a "sprained toe" injury to lead the Bears to a 38-20 victory over the New York Giants, and made an interception in the end-zone the following week to solidify a shutout against the New York Jets. Urlacher and the Bears concluded the season with a 13-3 record, and the NFCís top playoff seed. Urlacher was selected as the NFCís starting middle linebacker in the 2007 Pro Bowl, and was named onto the Associated Pressís "2006 All-Pro Team". He also finished fourth in the 2007 NFL Defensive Player Award. Urlacher finished the season with 141 tackles (his second highest amount) and three interceptions.
Following his successful rookie season, Urlacher was able to fetch a healthy popularity within the Chicagoland area. Undoubtedly, he is still one of the most popular current Chicago Bears players. Bearsí fans consider Urlacher to be one of the "Monsters of the Midway", a "Valhalla" of Bearsí icons including Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, and ďSamuraiĒ Mike Singletary. On a national level, Urlacherís jersey sales have rivaled those of other NFL icons, such as Michael Vick and Brett Favre. Football fans across the nation have also voted Urlacher into five Pro Bowls. However, some skeptics and critics have considered Urlacher to be overrated. Urlacherís injury woes in 2004 caused Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti to name him the NFLís most overrated player. Even after recovering from his injury, and winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the 2005 season, a 2006 Sports Illustrated poll of 361 NFL players named Urlacher to be the second most overrated player in the league, behind Terrell Owens. Urlacher was unfazed by the pollís results. During an interview, he said, "Just watch the film. I donít know what people are saying, but Iím not too worried about it anymore. All I can do is go out there and play hard and try and help my team win, and thatís what Iím going to keep doing."