Golf hat, golf shirt.
This is what Brian Urlacher looks like in retirement.
The door opens at his north suburban home, and there stands one of the Bears all-time greatest players, a man who symbolized grit, filth and slime on a football field--his feet firmly planted in a pair of shiny, white golf shoes.
It’s 95 degrees outside. The air feels like an oven. It doesn’t matter. He has a tee-time that afternoon.
You walk inside his house. What’s on the TV? What else?
Men’s golf. Women’s golf. He easily rattles off the names of eight players currently on the LPGA Tour.
This man played football for a living, right?
Urlacher lives only 10 minutes away from Halas Hall, but in terms of playing the game, he might as well be in a different country.
The regular season begins Thursday. The Bears open on Sunday. If they, or any other team, happen to suffer a big injury to their linebacking core, Urlacher has some friendly advice for all 32 general managers in the league:
“Don't call me. I'm busy. I'm done. I'm so happy I'm done,” Urlacher says. “I haven't missed it at all. Especially preseason games. I haven’t missed anything about my body being sore. I played a lot of golf during training camp while guys were out there working out, so I didn't miss it at all.”
Urlacher tried watching a preseason game. He didn’t last long.
“It’s boring. You watch the first 10 plays and then you turn it off.”
Now he knows how we feel.
“I ended up watching the highlights.”
Urlacher did happen to catch the biggest hit of the preseason. Ironically, it came from Jon Bostic, the man set to replace him in the middle of the Bears defense. Bostic lit up Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie with a punishing blow that didn’t draw a penalty, but later a $21,000 fine.
No longer chasing down running backs, Urlacher didn’t hesitate in delivering a shot at the league office.
“I think that fine was bullcrap, NFL. That's what I think,” Urlacher says emphatically. “I watched it full-speed the first time and he hit him and I was talking to [Fox Sports NFL rules analyst] Mike Pereira and I said, ‘That's a fine.’ And he said, ‘No, it's not.’ And Mike’s a rules guy. He knows all the rules in the NFL. I said, ‘It doesn't matter. Look at how violent it is. It's a great hit. They're going to fine him. The fans got excited. So they're going to fine him.’ And of course they did.”
It’s a different league than the one Urlacher entered as a rookie in 2000. In fact, according to Brian, it’s not even like 2011. To keep its offensive players on the field, the NFL has cracked down on illegal hits, which has come at the expense of defensive players—and their bank accounts. Urlacher admits that he never used to think about where to hit a guy during a game, but all that changed in his last two seasons.
“That’s a huge issue now. Guys are thinking, ‘Where can I hit someone?’ Instead of watching [offensive players] cracking back and taking our knees out,” Urlacher explains.
Yes, Urlacher did say “our” knees, as if he’s still wearing a uniform. Chalk it up to a middle linebacker still defending his turf, looking out for the guys in the black hats. That would be every single person on defense. In his mind, they live in an unfair world without justice. Offensive players? They’re the ones wearing the white hats, surrounded by rainbows and unicorns, always being protected like innocent puppies by the NFL.
Urlacher brings up the case of Joe Looney, the San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman whose low block on Minnesota Vikings defensive Kevin Williams during the preseason was deemed legal by the NFL. Williams hyper-extended his knee on the play and might not be ready for the season.
“Offensive guys can do that--cheap shots. But the NFL is not going to fine you for it,” Urlacher says. “But if we do something like that, it’s bad. Sorry, I can talk about this all day. It drives me nuts.”
When he’s not talking about fines and hypocrisies in the league, Urlacher sounds happy in retirement. But if it really was his choice, he’d be back playing with the Bears.
He and his representatives reportedly asked for a two-year, $11.5 million deal as a starting point to negotiations. However, as it turned out, there weren't any negotiations. The Bears came back with a one-year, $2 million offer, which Urlacher described to the Chicago Tribune in March as an “ultimatum” and “insulting.”
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Now working for the new cable channel Fox Sports 1, Urlacher has become an unofficial member of the media, aligning himself with the same group of people he was known to sometimes show disdain for during his playing career.
You know, people like me.
Although if you ask him, he’s strictly a football analyst, not an actual journalist or sportscaster.
True, certain reporters ticked him off with their questions and columns--to which Urlacher responded by being surly with the media after games, sometimes giving one-word answers like “yes” and “no.” It was a complicated two-way street with a lot of potholes.
Maybe it became the same with the Bears.
The franchise still holds a big place in Urlacher’s heart, but unlike before when the team meant everything, now it’s been downgraded to something, which is nothing like before.
“I'm sure I'll watch [Bears games] for our show on Fox. I'll probably watch them when I have time, but I probably won't be sitting on the couch saying, ‘Go Bears.’ I'm not going to be like the Superfan, but I will pay attention to what they're doing. I have a lot of friends on that team.”
A major topic in the NFL lately has been the proposed $765 million settlement between the league and more than 4,500 former players regarding concussion-related lawsuits.
Urlacher played middle linebacker for 13 years, registering 1,353 tackles in the regular season, which doesn't include preseason, postseason, college, high school and all the random hits in between.
[RELATED: Urlacher’s HOF career started as a mistake]
After all those battles, how clear is his mind? Is he concerned about his mental well-being going forward?
“Personally, I'm not. I had one major concussion. I had some little ones. I think we all have little ones throughout our careers. I'm not worried about it,” Urlacher says. “And even if it did happen, football is a contact sport. We know that. You sign up because you like to have collisions. That's just the way it is. You know that going in. There's going to be injuries no matter what they are. Just deal with it.”
Guessing that probably won’t go over too well with the NFL Players Association.
Our interview ends. Urlacher says good-bye--not before helping to lift our photographer’s heavy equipment as it goes out the door.
“Wow, what a great guy,” I thought to myself. “All the members of the media should see this side of Brian Urlacher.”
The next thing I know, he’s gone. He disappeared. Where did he go? No idea.
Suddenly, an SUV comes roaring down his driveway.
He wasn’t being nice. The man was in a hurry.
He was late for his tee-time.