The Bears will honor Brian Urlacher at halftime of Monday night's game against the Seahawks for his recent Pro Football Hall of Fame induction with a Ring of Excellence ceremony.
It will be Urlacher's first trip back to Soldier Field since he retired following the 2012 season. I had the opportunity to speak to the former star middle linebacker about Monday night's ceremony as well as his illustrious Bears career Sunday at Halas Hall. The following is a transcript of that interview:
You mentioned during your Hall of Fame speech that you never got a chance to say goodbye to Bears fans because you suffered an injury—ironically against the Seahawks—and didn't play in the final four games in 2012. How much did that bother you?
"The fans were so great to me. You never know when your last game is going to be, and mine happened to be that Seattle game in 2012. I pulled my hamstring and didn't play the rest of the season. That was my last season. You always want a send-off or a way to say goodbye to the fans. [Fellow Hall of Fame middle linebacker] Ray Lewis had it great because he knew it was his last season, so that was his farewell to the fans. I didn't get that. And the way it ended, I didn't have a chance to come back or do anything like that. Monday night will be really cool to get a chance to say goodbye to them. I didn't get a chance to do it in person or in a game or anything like that, so it will be nice to get up there and say bye to them."
You became a Bears fan favorite immediately when you were a rookie in 2000. What was that like for you and how much do you still appreciate that relationship with the fans?
"The fans are amazing. Our fans appreciate defense. They appreciate guys who play hard. I was never a big guy to celebrate. I wasn't a dancer. I didn't do things after I made plays. I slapped hands with my teammates as soon as I could so I would get the spotlight off me. Our fans just appreciate good defense. They're awesome. I don't know why they kind off gravitated toward me, I guess maybe the way I played. Maybe they were used to that from guys before me. The tone had been set a long time ago and maybe I followed in that tradition."
What's it like seeing fans wear your jersey? Have you ever interacted with a fan wearing your jersey who didn't realize who you are?
"It happens all the time, especially now. People will be wearing the jersey and I'll be like, 'Dude, I really like your jersey." And they're like, 'Oh thanks, man, he was good.' I'm like, 'Was he? How good was he?' During my playing career, I'd go into the Vernon Hills mall and when there was someone wearing my jersey I'd kind of mess with them a little bit until they figured out who I am. It was fun."
You've always wanted to be just one of the guys, no different than any of your teammates. Is that just your personality or was it something that was instilled in you?
"I don't feel like I'm different than anybody else. That's why. That's the way I was raised. I don't think my importance to the team was bigger than anybody else's. That's just the way I looked at it. Olin [Kreutz] was the same way. Mike Brown was the same way. They were more vocal than some guys on the team, but they didn't try to put themselves above anybody else. We were all equal in my opinion. If one guy doesn't do his job, the whole team fails. That's really the way I looked at it. I wasn't better than anybody else when it came to that."
A lot of your former teammates were in Canton for your Hall of Fame induction and several of them will be at Soldier Field for Monday night's halftime ceremony. What does your relationship with your ex-teammates mean to you?
"Those are my guys. It's hard to play 10 years with the same people, and I did it with Charles [Tillman], Lance [Briggs], Olin, Robbie [Gould], [Patrick] Mannelly obviously was here for 40 years. There were a bunch of guys that I played a long time with, in this organization. We stuck together and we were fortunate to win a bunch of games. We were together for a long time. That's hard to do. But not just those guys. there were other guys as well that I played with two, three or four years that had a big impact on me as well. It's cool that they're all coming back. The bears have done a great job during the whole Hall of Fame process. They've been very helpful and always want to reach out and help me with stuff."
I heard Charles Tillman the other day on the radio saying that he was watching more football than he did during his career and he was starting to miss playing. Do you miss playing the game?
"I don't miss playing, no I don't. I've always been a fan. Even when I played, I still watched every game. I watched Monday night, Thursday night, Saturday college. Anytime there was football on, I was watching it, high school or whatever. I'm a fan so I always watched. But I don't miss playing. Obviously, you miss the great times. People always remember the good times. I remember the bad times, too, how your body hurt when you woke up after those games or when you hurt yourself. You always took the good with the bad. But I really can say I don't miss playing football."
How confident are you that the Bears are on that right path?
"I'm super confident that the Bears are headed in the right direction. You look at the players that we've acquired not just through the draft but in free agency and trades. Our coach (Matt Nagy) is doing the right things, [general manager] Ryan Pace has done a good job. I think everyone is on the same page. And you can see it on the field. I know we've only played one game this season, but we're competitive. The NFC North is tough. There are some good teams in our division and we're going to be right there competing with all of them."
I've noticed that you still use the word "we' when referring to the Bears. You're a Bear for life, aren't you?
"Did I play for anybody else? Nope, I didn't. So I'm a Bear. I always talk about 'we' because I'm always rooting for them. You hear fans talk about 'we.' Well, that's me now. I'm a fan, so I can say 'we' when I refer to the Bears."