On the NFL
7:14 PM EDT, May 22, 2013
There will be no purple smudge on the accomplishments of Brian Urlacher. The sight of him with some sort of cat or bird on his helmet never will make anyone wince. He will not have that moment when he makes us recall Willie Mays with the Mets.
Urlacher crossed the finish line in navy blue and orange Wednesday, though a little less gracefully than he could have.
Forever, he will be a Bear.
And forever, Chicago will be grateful.
In this age in which NFL rosters are rearranged as frequently as furniture showrooms, there is something very special about playing 13 years for one team, especially one so bound by tradition.
In the 93-year history of the franchise, only six players have stayed as long as Urlacher and not played anywhere else. The others are Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Bulldog Turner, the venerable Doug Buffone, Jim Osborne and Keith Van Horne and the legendary long snapper who could survive plague, Pat Mannelly.
So many others had to get one last bite of the apple playing for another team. Olin Kreutz did it. Richard Dent. Jay Hilgenberg. Kevin Butler. Steve McMichael. Mike Ditka. Bill George even.
Urlacher could have done the same. It looked like he was headed that way. He ultimately decided it was better to not play at all than to not be a Bear.
And rest assured, he could have played. Physically he could have been a valuable contributor to some defense. At the time of his hamstring injury last season, Urlacher was the leading tackler on the Bears' defense. That didn't happen because he was falling on top of piles, or because he couldn't get out of the way of running backs.
The Bears thought he still had value. They legitimately wanted him back and offered him $2 million per season to return.
Urlacher thought he still had value. The Bears offer was insulting to him because he thought he was worth more than that.
Others in the league still thought he had value, too.
This is what one front office man who did his homework on Urlacher said about him: "He doesn't run like he did, but he still is around the ball a lot and is instinctive. He played fine last year. I wouldn't call him great anymore, but he still can play."
So why didn't any team try to sign him? They preferred younger, cheaper, faster players. They had spots filled.
Eventually teams would have come calling as rosters evolved. We're just getting to the point now when some older, big name veterans are starting to find homes. Among those who recently have signed with teams include Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney, Max Starks and Karlos Dansby.
But to fall in line with them, Urlacher would have become an awkward Viking or Jaguar or Seahawk or something.
He didn't realize it at the time, and maybe he still doesn't, but his best option really was to accept that offer from the Bears and announce that 2013 would be his last season.
Urlacher would not have been in 2013 what he was in 2005, when he was NFC defensive player of the year. But he could have been the leader of the defense as it transitioned to a new era, the bridge to Bears of tomorrow.
He could have gone out in style, waving goodbye the way Mike Singletary did on Dec. 13, 1992 when he played the final home game of his 12-year career.
The Bears were 4-9 when they woke up that frigid day, losers of six straight. The Steelers came to Soldier Field with a 10-3 record and a five-game winning streak.
The night before the game, coach Mike Ditka fired up the Bears by showing them a highlight reel of Singletary's career.
At the behest of Richard Dent, Singletary addressed the team before the game. Each player came out of the tunnel wearing a No. 50 patch on his heart. Singletary was the final player introduced, and then he jogged to the middle of the field where his family waited for him.
There were speeches and ovations and a presentation of two samurai swords.
The tears flowed, and then the Bears went out and stunned the Steelers 30-6.
"I don't even dream that good," Singletary said afterward.
That day won't happen for Urlacher, but his dream lasted 13 years.
And the memories he provided, those will last forever.
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