Urlacher has line of backers, doubters

Loved and hated, Bears standout looks to follow Butkus, Singletary

February 02, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

MIAMI -- When it comes to Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, there is no middle ground.

Some consider Urlacher the next in the Bears' great legacy of linebackers. Others believe he is among the most overhyped players in the game.

In his seven-year career, Urlacher has been named to the Pro Bowl six times, received the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for 2005, and made the list of overrated players in two magazines.

"It made me mad at first," Urlacher said. "I don't know where it came from. But my teammates and my coaches stood up for me, and that's really all that matters."

In 2004, balloting conducted by The Sporting News tabbed Urlacher the most overrated player in the NFL. This season, a poll of NFL players by Sports Illustrated pegged Urlacher the league's second-most overrated player behind Terrell Owens.

But Urlacher could cement his name in Chicago sports history if the Bears can capture their first Super Bowl in 21 years.

Large, fast and smart, he is the pulse of the Bears defense that finished fifth in the NFL in yards allowed and gave up the third-fewest points (15.9 per game). Prowling the center of the field, he covers the field as few linebackers can.

"I think he's the best player in football," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said.

Where he fits among the best linebackers in Bears history is another topic of debate.

He doesn't hit like Dick Butkus. He doesn't show the same intensity as Mike Singletary.

When asked about Urlacher, Butkus didn't give a flattering review.

"If he can just be a little bit more intense in his tackling and start getting ball carriers or receivers to think, `Hey, I better have my head on a swivel or this guy is going to knock me off,'" Butkus told the Chicago Tribune in October.

Urlacher's success comes from uncanny athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 258-pound linebacker.

"If you play angry, you lose sight of your keys," Urlacher said. "I try to play fast, not angry."

Although Walter Payton is considered the best player in Chicago Bears history, the face of the franchise has always been the one in the middle of the defense.

From the mid-1960s to the early '70s, it was the menacing snarl of Butkus.

In the 1980s, it was the wide eyes of Singletary.

Now, it is the shaven head of Urlacher, the one that resembles a high-caliber bullet.

"People compare me to them all the time, and it's not fair to them for me to be compared to them because they are in the Hall of Fame," Urlacher said. "Maybe when I'm done I'll be there. Who knows?"

Teammates say Urlacher is not just the identity of the defense but the entire team.

"When you think of the Chicago Bears, you have to think of Brian Urlacher," defensive end Alex Brown said. "For that matter, if you think Chicago, 54 comes to mind. He's the one guy you don't have to say his name. You just say `54,' and everybody knows."

The No. 54 also evokes images of Urlacher's impact.

As a rookie in 2000, he ran almost the width of the field to force quarterback Brett Favre out of bounds for a sack. Last year in Atlanta, he made an eye-opening, open-field tackle on Michael Vick, leading the angered Falcons quarterback to throw the ball at him.

Then, this season, he made 25 tackles and forced a fumble that Chicago returned for a touchdown in the Bears' 20-point comeback against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Brian Urlacher is a guy I will always know where he is. You just can't help it," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "There are certain guys like that."

On Sunday, it will either be Manning or Urlacher hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

"I want to win a championship," Urlacher said. "To tell you the truth, all this stuff can go away - Defensive Player of the Year, overrated, underrated, all that junk can go out the window."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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