CANTON, Ohio — Let’s start with a little housekeeping. Saturday night, Brian Urlacher became the 35th NFL Hall of Famer to play for the Chicago Bears, and the 28th who spent the bulk of his career and earned his spot playing in Chicago.
It is the most of any team in the NFL.
Urlacher talked a lot in the week leading up to his induction about the tradition of his position in Chicago. As if Urlacher’s observation needed any embellishment, during the introductions of all the returning “Gold Jackets,” far and away the loudest and most sustained welcome was given to Dick Butkus.
But among all of the Bears' luminaries, former teammates and fans in attendance, this was a night that belonged to No. 54.
No linebacker in NFL history has possessed the combination of size, speed and athleticism that Urlacher did, and he redefined the way the position is played, becoming the prototypical four-down ‘backer equally at home stuffing the run, defending the pass and sacking the quarterback.
Urlacher was as emotional Saturday night as we’ve never seen him, welling up early in his speech and pausing to fight back the tears saying, “Not yet, not yet.” He focused a big part of his speech on his mom, who passed away at only age 51 in 2011 while he was still playing.
Urlacher regretted not being able to talk about all his teammates but did single out a few.
“Mike Brown and I were drafted in the same class," Urlacher said. "He’s the smartest football player I’ve ever been on the field with, even smarter than I am— and I hate saying that. He communicated with the defense with his little squeaky-a*s voice. I miss that voice.
“Lance Briggs, I played alongside this beast for 10 years. His enthusiasm was contagious. We'll be back here in a couple years for your induction 'Big Time.'
“Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman. I had a front row seat for 10 years watching this guy piss people off by making them fumble when all they worked on all week was not fumbling.
“Alex Brown, Alex has one of the most contagious laughs I've ever heard. It rivals my mother's. He is also one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and he was also a hell of a football player as well.
“I only played with this guy for three years, but Dusty Dvoracek impacted me greatly. Even as a rookie he stepped in and took control of the huddle and made all the people accountable.
“Olin Kreutz, the toughest person I've ever met and one of the hardest working people as well. No doubt he was our team leader.
“O.G.K played his heart out. Injuries did not matter — he played through them. Olin was the best center in the league. He made me a better player and competitor, and we all looked up to you, Olin.”
In closing, Urlacher took it upon himself to define his career.
“Now, here I am, 40 years of age. From this unique vantage point, I’m able to look ahead as I embark on the next leg of my journey.
“Football has opened so many doors for me and not only benefited me but others as well. I was a football player. That was my job. But that’s not who I am. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a provider and a role model for a lot of children, which I try to embrace as much as I can.
“But most importantly, it’s these (three) sitting right in front of me: Pamela, Riley and Kennedy.
“Football did not define me. But it clearly has helped me be a better man. Its core values aren’t simply football values. They are life values.
“When I apply what I learned in football to the rest of my life, I have discovered they all work. For someone as competitive as I am, that victory means everything to me. Thank you all.”
We all had the pleasure of watching Brian Urlacher come of age in Chicago.
Saturday night in Canton, he was a hell of a man.