Charles Tillman played 10 seasons with Brian Urlacher and is convinced that his former Bears teammate deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Urlacher is one of 15 modern-era finalists who hopes to hear his name called Saturday when the Hall of Fame Selection Committee meets in Minnesota to vote for the Class of 2018.
"Brian Urlacher is a Hall of Famer because he embodies everything there is about the linebacker position, especially when you think of Chicago, Monsters of the Midway, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus," Tillman said. "You could easily roll Brian Urlacher in that category.
"His speed, his quickness, his explosiveness, the way he would read offenses, yeah, all that. That's why he needs to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Urlacher played his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bears after being selected with the ninth pick in the 2000 draft out of New Mexico. Fueled by a rare combination of size, speed and toughness, he was voted to eight Pro Bowls, was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2000 and was selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
"I think he's the greatest linebacker to ever play in Bears history and I think that says a lot," said former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who played nine seasons with Urlacher from 2002-10. "He is a super, super talented guy that was driven with his mind, with his body. He's special."
Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a 2006 game.
Urlacher was a four-time All-Pro who helped the Bears win four division titles and reach the Super Bowl in 2006. He started 180 of 182 games played with the Bears, recording 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 team are Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton (184) and center Olin Kreutz (183).
"There are players that can run sideline to sideline and there have been, but not like he did it," Brown said. "You couldn't create a better middle linebacker on a computer to fit in a cover-two scheme. It has to be Urlacher. He is that guy.
"He's fast enough. He's smart enough. He's big enough that it made the quarterbacks have to throw over him but fit the ball in just before the safety got there and it was just too hard to do. Most of the time they'd under-throw it and he'd pick it off because he was an athlete. He can jump. He can run. He did everything. He stopped the run. He could run down a fast running back. He could run down a receiver."
In addition to his rare ability, Urlacher was also a tremendous leader who demanded the most out of his teammates.
"Brian made me a better player," Tillman said. "I learned a lot from Brian. I learned that when you made a mistake, he was the first one to yell at you, scream at you, curse you and then you get on the sideline and he'd be the first one to apologize for cursing and screaming and yelling at you and then he would say, 'Hey, I'm sorry. I just really want to win. We can play better than that.' He held me accountable for my playing and I never wanted to let him down because it really made me feel bad."
Tillman marveled at Urlacher's football intelligence, especially his ability to read offenses and make the necessary adjustments before the snap.
"He is up there with the geniuses," Tillman said. "He studies film and he's really smart and he knows his stuff and he would sprinkle a little bit of that on us, especially in the backfield. I'd probably say [former Bears safety] Mike Brown and Brian Urlacher are two of the smartest players that I've had the privilege of playing with."
"He was so smart and then he could get along with everybody, regardless of who it was," added Alex Brown. "If you had the seventh-round pick that was mad at the world, that just didn't think anybody wanted him on the team, he wasn't getting the reps that he thought he should get, Urlacher knew exactly what to say to get that kid back on board and back in the fold.
"Then, the first-round pick that thought he was the man without actually having to prove something, he knew exactly what to say to him. He just knew how to say certain things to people. With all that combined, it made up '54' and that's what made him so special."