HAWL IN: Brian Urlacher finally gets his proper goodbye to football

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 04: Brian Urlacher speaks during the 2018 Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on August 4, 2018 at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton, Ohio (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CANTON, OH – Five years later, he finally got to say it.

It should have been done a lot earlier than this, but sometimes things don’t finish out as people hoped. That includes someone who was the face of a franchise for a decade and was part of redefining a position in the Naitonal Football League.

But Brian Urlacher finally got what he didn’t get when he left football in 2013 – a goodbye.

That’s what Saturday was about in some ways for the linebacker, who spent 13 seasons with the Bears before neither side could reach and agreement on a new deal in March of 2013. The team went one way and their eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker went intro retirement, completing an incredible career where he was a four-time first team All-Pro and led the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006.

Fences were mended after that, with Urlacher returning to a number of Bears events over the past five years. Still, there was a void. There was that goodbye.

Circumstance prevented a proper one back in 2013 when his career came to an end. There was no on-field salute or jersey retirement, just a news release saying that the sides parted ways. A little closure to his playing days was missing and deserving, considering his impact on the franchise.

But five years later, on a warm night in Canton, Urlacher got his goodbye.

 

In a revealing 19-minute speech, Urlacher opened up in ways he never had when he wore the Orange and Blue from 2000-2012.

Emotional tributes to his family, including his late mother and step father, drew the emotions out of himself and the crowd. With a multitude of former teammates in attendance, he saluted them one-by-one, with a combination of grace and humor.

By the way, his Mike Brown impersonation was pretty funny. The “Oreo Donut Balls Thursday” story was fun too.

He delivered a memorable line in the process, one I tweeted out as the speech was going on Saturday.

That was the impression he gave during his goodbye to those in football, and it resonated with many. Those in attendance vouched not only for his talent but his willingness to put those around him above himself.

Of course, the fans got their due, too. It was, in many ways, the chance to have the proper sendoff.

“I must acknowledge the fans. I never got the chance to say goodbye. The best fans in the world,” said Urlacher. Even when we stunk, they’d sit in their seats at Soldier Field freezing their butts off, every time.”

It was 19 minutes in total – and not to sound cliche or sappy – it was truly from the heart. There were pauses, frequent emotional rushes, a few tears, but it was genuine Urlacher. It didn’t have to be polished, just honest, a speech that gave praise more than anything else.

Cheers were frequent and were deserved. Urlacher was the face of a new millenieum for Bears fans in his arrival from New Mexico in 2000, playing the position with a versatility and a ferocity that made him unique even in a city which had a collection of cherished linebackers. He was the cornerstone in four division championships, two NFC Title Game appearances, and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. From sacks to open field tackles, forced fumbles, and interceptions from sideline to sideline, Urlacher did it in a way that established a new standard for the versatile linebacker.

Fans are rediscovering that this weekend, the unique talent the Bears had with Urlacher. It ended so abruptly, without pomp, that a proper time to reflect on his contributions took some time to find.

We’ll it arrived on August 4, 2018.

That’s when Brian had his proper goodbye to Chicago Bears fans, and it was perfect.