CANTON, Ohio – Brian Urlacher grew up 1,200 miles away from Chicago in Lovington, N.M., but the former star middle linebacker is convinced that he was born to play for the Bears.
"Definitely, 100 percent," said Urlacher, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night in Canton. "I feel like with my style of play and the way my mother raised me, my work ethic and the way the people in Chicago appreciate defense and hard-working people, no doubt I was born to play there."
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.
Urlacher will become the 28th member of the Bears organization enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the most of any NFL team. It's a select group that includes three of his predecessors at middle linebacker: Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
"We have the best legacy of middle linebackers in football history, in my opinion," Urlacher said. "It's amazing. Our fans love defense and they show that every home game, everywhere they go. They love their defense. It's a great tradition."
Urlacher admittedly didn't know much about the franchise's history when he was drafted. But it didn't take long for him to gain an appreciation for the team's past.
"I grew up in New Mexico, I was a Cowboys fan, so I didn't know about the history of the Bears," Urlacher said. "I didn't know about the Bears defense. I knew about Dick Butkus and Walter Payton, but I didn't know about Singletary, Bill George, all the other great players that came before me.
"But I learned real quick from the media what it was supposed to be like, what a great tradition of defense and just football, period."
Urlacher has been busy since arriving in Canton this week. He attended the Hall of Fame Game between the Bears and Ravens and then hosted a private party Thursday night. On Friday, he joined the rest of the Class of 2018 and more than 130 Hall of Famers for a group photo, a luncheon and a gold jacket ceremony. He then rode in a parade Saturday morning, paying tribute to a late, great Bears legend by wearing a white No. 34 Payton jersey.
During his induction speech Saturday night, Urlacher will no doubt talk about his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, who passed away on Sept. 12, 2011.
"It's easy to say, everyone can say it, but without her, there's no chance I'm sitting here," Urlacher said. "My work ethic, my drive to succeed, was instilled by her at a very young age. She worked her tail off for us three kids. She was a single mother. I think about her more and more. My brother and sister, she's always on our minds."
Urlacher's speech figures to be emotional, but he isn't sure whether he'll shed any tears.
"I don't know," he said. "When I read it and go over it, I'm OK. But when I get up there? You've got to remember there are going to be all these guys behind me telling me, cry, cry, cry.' I hope not. But it's going to be hard not to when I'm talking about my mom. I hope I can fight [the tears] back, but we'll see."