By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) One by one emerged members of the Bears defense, and the roar at Soldier Field grew. It’s a customary tradition as players run out from the tunnel and onto the field to a loud ovation, with the superstar saved for last.
Coach Lovie Smith would often get goosebumps as Brian Urlacher ran out and the Bears fans erupted with excitement. It was a unique embrace between a crazed fan base and its hero at linebacker. But Urlacher didn’t savor the salute like Smith. In fact, it made him a bit uncomfortable.
Smith can still remember when Urlacher pulled him aside and requested that he wouldn’t be unveiled last to the fans at Soldier Field. He didn’t like that the cheers were louder for him than other teammates. Instead, Urlacher and teammates were introduced together.
“He’s the best superstar you’ll ever be around,” Smith said by phone Friday. “About as humble and good of a friend as you could possibly ever ask for. As good of teammate as you could ask for.”
At the University of Minnesota’s Northtrop Auditorium on Saturday evening, Urlacher could be elected into the 2018 class to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot. It’s a distinguished honor so many of those close to him not only hope comes to fruition but also believe he so richly deserves.
Smith will be busy this weekend as he hosts a number of recruits to his University of Illinois football program. But he will be following closely to news out of Minneapolis.
There’s no debate for Smith that Urlacher deserves the Hall of Fame.
“The best to play at a position, a guy that changed the position, a guy that’s different than most of the other players that played the position,” Smith said. “This is who Brian Urlacher is. You have to start out with God-given ability and you can’t draw up a better ‘Mike’ linebacker than Brian Urlacher.
“It was so much more than football with Brian. So many people are excited about the opportunity to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He deserves to be there.
“The most humble superstar you’ll ever be around.”
Smith coached Urlacher for nine seasons with the Bears, finding upon his arrival in 2004 that he has the ideal fit at middle linebacker. Hired previously as defensive coordinator of the Rams, Smith brought a defense to Chicago that primarily operated in a Cover-2 identity, and that was led by Urlacher.
Urlacher was the ideal fit in the middle of Smith’s defense because his 6-foot-4, 258-pound frame had such tremendous speed and athleticism. He was able to take over the middle of the field and forced offenses to take into account where he was on each player.
What Smith saw in Urlacher, a team captain and the quarterback of that defense, weren’t only those physical gifts but also great instincts.
“All of the traits you look for in a linebacker,” Smith said.
“The guy is as smart of a football player as there is.”
Smith is one of 15 finalists for the class of 2018, as custom in selecting a five-man class. There will be three separate votes held Saturday by a group of 48, which will reduce the group to 10 and ultimately five. Once that group of five is revealed, each must receive 80 percent of the vote for induction.
The only complication to Urlacher’s case for the Hall of Fame is that Ravens great Ray Lewis is also on the ballot and considered a lock, which would make for two middle linebackers in the class. Voters sometimes stray away from selecting two players at the same position.
There’s no doubt for Smith that Urlacher belongs in Canton.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” he said. “Some people should be able to put ‘HOF’ after their name. That’s definitely the case with him.”