CANTON, Ohio – It was never about him.
Not even with all the accolades and all the honors that Brian Urlacher began compiling not long after he was selected by the Bears with the ninth pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
It was never about him, not even after the star middle linebacker was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 2000 and the league’s defensive player of the year in 2005.
To Urlacher, it was always about his teammates and his team, his family, friends, coaches and co-workers. A humble superstar, he insisted on sharing the spotlight rather than basking in it alone. That’s how it was throughout Urlacher’s 13-year NFL career, which he spent entirely with the Bears.
Given his unselfishness and humility, it’s no surprise that Urlacher spent the day of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame not celebrating his greatness but honoring those who helped him reach the pinnacle of the sport.
It started early Saturday when Urlacher wore a white No. 34 Walter Payton jersey during the Hall of Fame parade, paying homage to the late, great Bears running back.
“It’s typical Brian,” said team chairman George H. McCaskey “that in the parade when he could have had all the attention focused on himself, he was wearing a Walter Payton jersey, saluting the greatest player of all time and tipping his cap to all those that came before him.”
It continued Saturday night when Urlacher spent most of his 20-minute induction speech thanking his family, friends and former teammates and coaches for helping him become the 28th member of the Bears organization to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
“Today is not really about me or what I was able to do on the football field,” Urlacher said. “I’m primarily here tonight to pay respect to the men and women who have made this all possible, and I honor them for the impact they’ve had on my life.”
Urlacher began by thanking his official presenter, Bob Babich, who served as Urlacher’s position coach and/or defensive coordinator for nine of the middle linebacker’s 13 seasons.
“I want you to know you’re both like a father to me and a brother,” Urlacher said. “You’re my favorite coach of all time. You not only made me a better football player but a better man. You and your wife, Nancy, are impeccable role models for me and I strive to be as good a parent to my children as you and Nancy are to yours.”
Urlacher followed by mentioning several former teammates. He called safety Mike Brown “the smartest football player I’ve ever been on the field with,” said that fellow linebacker Lance Briggs “elevated not only my game but the entire defense,” complimented cornerback Charles Tillman on his ability to force fumbles even when opponents knew that’s exactly what he was trying to do, and described defensive end Alex Brown as “one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet” and “also a hell of a football player as well.”
Urlacher also spoke about how football and family have been intertwined throughout his life.
“The values, discipline and respect for others taught me by my mother is reinforced in football,” Urlacher said. “Most importantly, at every level of the game it was flat-out fun for me. I loved going to work every day for 13 years. Two pillars of my life are family and football.
“Football integrated with my love for family has allowed me to fulfill my vision in life; to do and be my very best to the best of my ability at all times.
“I love everything about football—the friendships, the coaches, the teammates, the teachers, the challenges. The opportunity to excel as a teammate and as a leader. Football has provided me with virtually everything I have in life. It has provided for my children and my family.”
Urlacher’s eyes welled up with tears when he spoke about his mother, Lavoyda Lenard, who passed away in 2011. After his parents divorced when Urlacher was seven years old, his mother moved Brian and his sister and brother from Pasco, Washington, to Lovington, N.M.
“When we first moved, my mom didn’t have a job,” Urlacher said. “Not to worry, though. My mother was the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. She always found a way to provide for the three of us. Even if that meant working three jobs at a time. She was never too proud to take a job if that meant providing for us.
“Even working seven days a week, not once did she miss a practice, miss a game or any school function. She was always there for us, and she made sure we knew that. She was at all of our games. and we knew she was there because she was the loudest person screaming in the crowd, sometimes embarrassingly so.”
Urlacher also singled out his stepfather, Troy Lenard, who was in attendance at the induction ceremony, citing his work ethic and thanking him “for helping a young boy who needed a role model and for coming into our lives when you did.”
Urlacher got emotional when speaking about and to his wife, Jennipher, and his children—daughters Pamela and Riley and son Kennedy—who were seated in the front row. He called Jennipher his “rock” and “voice of reason” and described his children as “strong kids” who possess “amazing character.”
Urlacher called Bears fans “the best fans in the world.”
“Even when we stunk, they sat in their seats in Soldier Field freezing their butts off every time,” Urlacher said. “And in case you don’t know, our fans love defense.”
Urlacher thanked Bears owners Virginia McCaskey and George H. McCaskey and said “I hope over my 13 seasons I made all of you Bears fans proud. Becoming a Bear was like playing for family, and to play my entire career with one team is a testament to the tradition of the Chicago Bears.”
"I hope over my 13 seasons I made all of you Bears fans proud." Brian Urlacher
The eight-time Pro Bowler closed his speech with a powerful message.
“When I was told I was being invited to join this distinguished group of men, I immediately recognized that this would be one of the greatest honors I’d ever receive,” Urlacher said. “This is my legacy moment. And I thought long and hard about what I want to say right now. Here it is.
“As a player, I just want to be remembered as a great teammate. That’s it. I want to be remembered as a guy who would do anything for his teammates and always go above and beyond for you. To the guys who played against me, just know how much I respected the game. I feel like I played it the right way. I had fun when I was out there. I respected opponents as well as my teammates and coaches.
“I may be one of the most competitive people you’ll ever know. I wanted to win every snap, every game, even though it’s not possible. But I didn’t just compete against the other person, I competed to be my best. It wasn’t merely about the conquest. It was about the challenge. Every moment. Every practice. Every game. Everywhere. I just loved competing. Competition is in my DNA.”