There haven’t been a lot of times in my life as a Chicago sports fan where a truly paradigm shifting athlete has been let go by a team I love. Jeremy Roenick getting traded by the Blackhawks was one of those moments. The Cubs letting Kerry Wood leave was another. On Thursday, another roster move made its way into that rarified air, as the Bears announced that they would not be bringing back Brian Urlacher.
Ever since the Bears drafted him in 2000, it has been an absolute joy watching him play football. Whether it was his penchant for interrupting plays with his lightning quick reflexes, or his touchdown that he scored on a fake field goal against the Washington Redskins, or even that image of him hoisting the NFC Championship trophy at a snowy Soldier Field, there are so many memories that I will carry of Urlacher even after today’s announcements.
Despite these big time moments in my sports viewing life, this is a day that I will remember with more acceptance than either of the two other moves I mentioned in the opening to this post. When Roenick was dealt by the Blackhawks, it was just another reminder that “Dollar Bill” Wirtz was out to only make a quick buck and didn’t give a flying crap about Hawks fans, so there was plenty of animosity there. When the Cubs announced that they weren’t bringing back Wood, despite his expressing a desire to stay, it amounted to much the same thing: looking at an organization whom I felt was being disloyal to someone who embodied what fans feel about their role with the franchise: undying loyalty to Cubbie blue.
With Urlacher, however, the emotions I’m feeling are way less ones of anger and more of “well, it’s about time.” Urlacher’s frequent injuries and random attacks against fans and the media had me fed up with him to a degree, so today’s announcement is viewed more through a prism of what is good for the football team, as opposed to “what does this mean for me as a fan?”
Would it have been nice to see Brian retire as a Chicago Bear? Absolutely, but the fact of the matter is that Urlacher wasn’t destined to go out on top like Ray Lewis did with the Baltimore Ravens this year. Instead, he was going to be a much less vital cog in a brand new system that Marc Trestman and company will be employing this year, and to watch him be an after-thought instead of one of the greatest middle linebackers in league history is insulting not only to him, but also to the memories that I hold in my heart of #54.
Even though it will be incredibly odd to see Urlacher running onto the field next year, whether it’s Minneapolis or Seattle, the memories I have of his 13 years with the Bears will remain fond. They could have easily been jaded and dampened, just like Michael Jordan’s were during his ill-advised comeback attempt with the Washington Wizards, but instead he will join the pantheon of guys like Ryne Sandberg and so many others who I view favorably as I continue to get a bit more gray hair on my scalp.
Good luck to you Brian, and I look forward to seeing you continue your career, even though it won’t be in the Windy City.