The Bears made history 20 years ago Wednesday. They just didn't know it at the time.
With the ninth pick in the 2000 draft, the Monsters of the Midway selected a freakish athlete who played safety, caught six touchdown passes as a red-zone threat and returned kicks the year before as a senior at New Mexico.
The Bears envisioned Brian Urlacher as an incredibly fast and tough-as-nails playmaker who would make a smooth transition to the linebacker position.
"If you go out and watch the kid practice, a kid of that size with that much speed and that much ability to change direction, you get pretty excited about him as soon as you see him," said then-Bears vice president of personnel Mark Hatley, who headed the draft. "You turn on the lights and sideline-to-sideline he sure makes a lot of plays. And he'll make some big hits."
"When they first told me about him I thought they were joking." Former Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache
That, of course, turned out to be a pretty accurate description of Urlacher, who became the face of the Bears franchise for more than a decade during an illustrious career in Chicago that culminated in his Hall of Fame induction in 2018.
Urlacher was voted to eight Pro Bowls and selected to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He was named NFL rookie of the year in 2000 and NFL defensive player of the year in 2005. He helped the Bears win four division championships and one conference title, advancing to Super Bowl XLI.
The Bears entered the 2000 draft targeting Urlacher, running back Thomas Jones and receiver Plaxico Burress at No. 9. When Jones was selected by the Cardinals at No. 7 and the Steelers followed by picking Burress at No. 8, the Bears had an easy decision.
"Fate seemed to work in this direction," then-Bears head coach Dick Jauron said at the time. "To have this linebacker come to this franchise in this city, I think it was a great thing for us. And we're all looking forward to seeing him and watching him develop."
The first time that then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache read a scouting report on Urlacher, he felt like someone was trying to convince him that the Loch Ness Monster existed. So Blache popped in a videotape of Urlacher and discovered that at least one freak of nature was more than just an urban legend.
"When they first told me about him I thought they were joking," Blache said at the time. "Sometimes scouts get a little carried away with what they see. But watching the guy on film, he's very impressive. As big a man as he is, he can really run. He's got exceptional speed for a linebacker."
What Blache saw on film was a 6-4, 258-pounder with speed, power and agility who was timed at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and had a 34-inch vertical jump.
After playing safety his final two seasons in college, Urlacher lined up at linebacker in the Senior Bowl and was named the game's MVP.
When he was drafted by the Bears, he was eager to join the franchise's storied tradition at the position.
"That's the best part of being a linebacker in Chicago," Urlacher said at the time. "All you ever hear about is [Mike] Singletary and [Dick] Butkus and how good they were. It's a dream come true. Hopefully I can carry on the tradition."
Urlacher certainly accomplished that goal on a long journey with the Bears that officially began 20 years ago today.
On the 20th anniversary of the day the Bears drafted Brian Urlacher, take a look back at photos from the HOF linebacker's introductory press conference at Halas Hall.