By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Here’s one opinion that Bears great Brian Urlacher is every bit a first-chance Hall-of-Famer, as he received initial ballot nomination Tuesday.
Between now and December, his accomplishments and statistics will be debated, compared and contrasted with other names and careers, and most of that process could fail to give him proper credit for being something the likes of which we hadn’t quite seen, deployed in a way stealthy enough to merit closer inspection.
Dick Butkus ripped peoples’ limbs off and ate their faces and jumped up and down on their lifeless bodies, as film compilations show to this day. Lawrence Taylor’s ability to turn the corner highlighted a newly desired skill that ultimately necessitated a rule change. But Urlacher’s dominance was sleeker and more subtle.
As the middle linebacker in a Tampa-2 zone defense, the former college safety was the best there ever was at dropping to his landmark and then firing himself to make a play as if shot out of a cannon. Forward to blow up a ball-carrier, sideways to string out a scrambling quarterback, backward to outrun a tight end and every angle in between, Urlacher covered sideline to sideline, from the inside the box to well down the field. He turned a 2-deep zone into an effective 3-deep like nobody before or since. If there were statistics for “otherwise-routine passes dissuaded” or “expected yards after the catch negated by how ridiculously quickly he got there,” he’d be an all-time leader.
His numbers may be modest, but the eight-time Pro Bowl honoree and 2000’s All-Decade player was one of a kind.