On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago Bears issued a press release stating that legendary Middle Linebacker Brian Urlacher will not be returning to the team in 2013. The only team he has known and for which he played for 13 seasons. The first legitimate, lasting superstar player the Bears had drafted in probably 17 years.
Obviously, this is a shame. Not a shame that Urlacher won’t be coming back at any cost. A shame that both sides couldn’t reach a fair agreement for him to play one more season in Chicago. While the Bears unfortunately have a history in this department of letting legendary players walk in a disgraceful manner (Jay Hilgenberg in 1992, Olin Kreutz in 2011), I have to say that in this case, I fault Urlacher more.
As the story goes, Urlacher’s camp asked for a two-year contract paying the player $5 million per season. The Bears countered with a one-year, $2 million offer, a proposal Urlacher called “insulting.”
My interpretation of this is that Urlacher felt he should have been paid more than this “for all he’s done for the Bears.” (This is my interpretation, not a direct quote). To me, I think the Bears paid Urlacher generously, and possibly more than the market dictated, when they gave him a monster contract in 2003, and again when they paid him more to extend his deal in 2008. They didn’t have to do that.
So it seems that Urlacher drew his line in the sand, and now what is he going to do? I’m not the only one that wonders. The real shame is, the market has dictated for Urlacher his value, and it isn’t what he thinks it is now. How sad would it be to see him hobble along for another season with Minnesota or Arizona for less than what the Bears offered him.
I was excited when the Bears drafted him in April 2000. On my way to a frigid Cubs game that day, I heard the news and was ecstatic. Later when I heard that the late then personnel boss Mark Hatley tried virtually everything to NOT draft Urlacher (Hatley wanted Plaxico Burris), I was disgusted.
After his Rookie of the Year season, a friend met Urlacher at a private autograph signing, and found him to be a real nice guy one-on-one. Then around 2007 or so, my Father-in-Law conducted business with him, got me another personalized autograph, and again said he was a real great guy.
I was disappointed the last few years when the linebacker took aim at fans, several times saying they don’t know anything and he doesn’t care about them. But in the end, that was his opinion, and on a personal level, I don’t care about Brian Urlacher either.
But he will undoubtedly be missed by us all. It is always sad to see the end of an era. From the first preseason game Urlacher played in against the Cleveland Browns, it was apparent to me that this player was going to be special. And he most certainly was.
I am still hoping that by some chance miracle, the sides work out their differences and he returns to the team on a reasonable deal. But with the ego of a potential Hall of Fame player, I kind of doubt this will happen.
Given that practically every Bears fan owns at least one Urlacher jersey, it will be interesting to see if they dwindle in the stands in 2013, or if #54 will still have a presence. Wait, since I still see fans wearing Curtis Enis and Rick Mirer jerseys (gulp), I’m sure we’ll still see plenty.