No one appreciated soon-to-be Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher's unique talent, athleticism or leadership more than his long-time Bears teammates.
"He was like the charm on a chain," said former return specialist Devin Hester, who played with Urlacher from 2006-12. "We were the chain and he was the charm."
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.
"You couldn't create a better middle linebacker on a computer to fit in a cover-two scheme," said former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, Urlacher's teammate from 2002-10. "It has to be Urlacher. He is that guy. He's fast enough. He's smart enough. He's big enough. He could jump, he could run. He did everything. He stopped the run, he could run down a fast running back. Heck, he could run down a receiver. It really didn't matter what it was on the football field."
Urlacher, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday night in Canton, 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 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.
"He was fast," said former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who teamed with Urlacher from 2003-12. "He always played downfield. Nothing could get by him. He was a sack-master. He could run. He could jump high. Essentially it was like putting a DB who had all the athleticism with all those skills to play that position and to play it downhill and to play it fast."
A highly-respected team leader, Urlacher 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.
"He was a great player," said running back Matt Forte, who teamed with Urlacher from 2008-12, "definitely first ballot Hall of Fame like he is and I think he is definitely one of if not the best middle linebackers to play the game."