By Chris Emma—

(CBS) The arrival of Brian Urlacher in Chicago in 2000 marked the beginning of a memorable era for the Bears organization. A defensive identity was restored, led by the next great linebacker for the franchise.

Urlacher’s remarkable 13-year career saw just one uniform and the second Super Bowl appearance in Bears franchise history. He made eight Pro Bowls — only Mike Singletary and Walter Payton made more in franchise history — and solidified his place as one of the game’s greatest linebackers of all time.

Next year, Urlacher should receive the ultimate individual honor with an induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It seems all but certain that Urlacher should be a first-ballot inductee to the Hall of Fame, joining two other greats of his era in Ray Lewis and Randy Moss as sure picks for Canton. This weekend, the 2017 class included first-ballot picks Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson in a seven-man group.

Individual achievements are all over Urlacher’s resume, but what most defined his greatness was the leadership of that Bears defense. Urlacher was the most indispensable figure in Lovie Smith’s “Tampa 2” defense, an imposing figure at middle linebacker who directed the unit. He  was a force in the heart of the defense in the run game and just as impressive in coverage, recording 22 interceptions during his career.  The Bears reached the playoffs four times in Urlacher’s tenure in Chicago, with many wins spurred by that defense.

Two of Urlacher’s teammates on those defenses could potentially be Hall of Fame members down the road in linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman, both of whom were instrumental parts to the success.

With the 2017 Hall of Fame class now immortalized in Canton, we can look ahead. Bears fans should be able to make their plans for late next summer to go remember the career of Urlacher, a man so important to an era in Chicago’s football history.

Voting for the 2018 class will be unveiled next February.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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