CSNChicago.com is taking a look back at what turned out to be a memorable year in the Windy City, by counting down the 13 biggest Chicago sports stories of 2013. Check back each day to see what other storylines were good enough to make the list.
So many times a great Bears career ends in the “right” way, a victory tour in the player’s final year. Or a special day, like Mike Singletary’s final home game.
And too many times it doesn’t. Jim McMahon traded to San Diego on his way to uniforms in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Arizona and finally Green Bay. Dick Butkus in a lawsuit against the team. Super Bowl XX MVP Richard Dent being told he wasn’t welcome at the old Halas Hall during a final contract spat.
And then there was Brian Urlacher.
A likely first-ballot Hall of Fame middle linebacker, Urlacher missed the last four games of the 2012 season when he tore his hamstring. The year had already been a struggle beginning back in the previous offseason when his knee injury from the final game of the 2011 season did not heal as well or quickly as hoped.
Moving into the 2013 offseason, Urlacher was out of contract and, in the end, out of Chicago. After playing 2012 for $8 million, he first sought a two-year contract from the Bears for $11 million.
They countered with one year at $2 million, half of it guaranteed. Urlacher was furious at the offer, which he considered insulting, and came back at $3.5 million for a year.
The problem was that the Bears had indeed put their best offer on the table from the start. Urlacher assumed it was simply their first counter offer and when GM Phil Emery made it clear that the Bears, particularly with no other offers or teams in line for Urlacher, were not going to bid against themselves. They held firm at their $2 million, prompting Urlacher to term the offer “an ultimatum.”
It was not the first jolt Urlacher received.
On Mar. 20, the Bears issued a straightforward release that shocked the Urlacher camp and beyond:
“The Chicago Bears announced today they were unable to reach accord on a contract with LB Brian Urlacher for the 2013 season. Urlacher is a free agent after playing the last 13 years with the Bears.
“We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian and both sides have decided to move forward,” Bears General Manager Phil Emery said. “Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears.”
The rupture fueled the firestorm that already was swirling around Urlacher. Supporters pointed to the value of his presence in what was still one of the NFL’s elite defenses, and to his improving play as 2012 unfolded before the injury. Detractors pointed to what he no longer was, and the debate swirled over what he was worth, or if he was worth bringing back at all.
Regardless, with no teams making a play for him, Urlacher retired to take up a role on a show with FOX Sports 1. It wasn’t a quiet exit, but it was entertaining. Urlacher, who’d ripped fans for booing teammates late in the 2012 season, reported that Jay Cutler was the one former teammate who hadn’t called him after Urlacher’s retirement; that the Bears sometimes designated a player on the defense to take a faked-injury “dive” to force a slow-down stoppage of play.
It wasn’t exactly a storybook ending, but his career was:
- eight-time Pro Bowler, ninth-overall selection of the 2000 draft;
- started 180 of 182 games, played in 13 seasons (2000-12);
- franchise-record 1,779 tackles;
- 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 opponent fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles;
- the 2005 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year;
- the 2000 NFL Rookie of the Year;
- four-time All-Pro (2001-02, 2005-06);
- two-time Brian Piccolo Award winner (2000 and 2007);
- the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner in 2011.
Top 13 stories of 2013
4. Bears sever ties with Brian Urlacher