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Friday, September 18, 2009
Have at It: A tough climb for Urlacher and HOF

By Kevin Seifert

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

I appreciated the (mostly) civil discussion we had this week in discussing whether Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher has put together the framework of a Hall of Fame career. We’ve had a period here of heightened emotion, so I’m glad we could all come together and play nice.
Kevin Hoffman/US Presswire
Brian Urlacher needs a few more productive seasons to bolster his case for the Hall of Fame.

Short of tallying all of your 220-plus responses, my sense was that more people fell into the “maybe” and “no” category than those who answered with a straight “yes.”

ShimmitySham has Urlacher in his “hall of really good.” Tazhawkeye, who identifies himself as a Bears fan, writes: “Not yet.” He continued:
“Did Urlacher change the position? Yes, he was fast and changed the middle linebacker from a pure hitter to an all around defender. Did Urlacher dominate? Yes, for a few seasons. Are there players in his generation who did the same thing and dominate longer? Yes, Ray Lewis. Urlacher will need to make the Pro Bowl one more time and have 2 [more] healthy years in the NFL. Two more years will bring his total to 170 games played. One more Pro Bowl will bring his total to 7. By being able to come back, he will be able to say his career was sidetracked by injuries, but he was good enough to dominate ‘till the end. Right now, he is competing with Ray Lewis.”

Many of you brought up the Lewis comparison, noting he has played at a higher level for a longer period of time. (In particular: 10 Pro Bowl selections, six All-Pro teams, two NFL Defensive POY awards and one Super Bowl ring.) So if one criteria is dominating an era, wouldn’t Lewis overshadow Urlacher? Here’s what kyleuofcummings wrote: “When you ask a random football fan the most feared presence in the middle in the recent era it is sure to be Ray Lewis,”

Some of you believe Urlacher was well on his way to enshrinement before his play began to slip recently. Mohktal wrote: “In his first six years, I'd say he was definitely on his way to Canton. Especially his 2006 year. He was an absolute force that year. He was everywhere on the field, and when he tackled, you could tell the other guy woke up a little more. The past 3 seasons (plus his washout 2009) he hasn't even been the best LB on his team, let alone one of the top in the league.”

Of the loyalist arguments, I thought Andrew Sturtevant made the most detailed presentation. He pointed to three “shining examples” to define Urlacher’s body of work:
  1. The Bears’ 2006 game at Arizona.
  2. His performances in 2001 and 2005, when “he led a team to those great regular seasons without the help of a quarterback.” Andrew noted the Bears were among the top two defenses in the league those seasons.
  3. The 2006 NFC Championship Game against New Orleans: “I single out that game because after Reggie Bush did his flip in the end zone, the defense did not allow another score the rest of the game. Again Brian Urlacher was the face of that defense.”
My take? We should be careful to avoid speaking of Urlacher’s career in the past tense. There’s every reason to believe he’ll be back in 2010, and there’s no reason why he can’t string together several more successful years. Whether or not he returns, however, I’m not sure if his run from 2000 to 2006 is going to be enough to get him to Canton.

Brian Urlacher
#54 LB
Chicago Bears

1,058 804 37.5 8 17

You can’t evaluate Hall of Fame prospects in a vacuum. You always have to consider qualifications relative to other players in similar positions in his era. So Urlacher will be compared not only to Lewis, but also to Derrick Brooks and Junior Seau, among others.

Certainly, that group played different positions in different schemes. But when you look at the list of 19 linebackers in the Hall of Fame, you realize only a handful have been enshrined from each generation. From the 1980s, you see Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor and Andre Tippett. From the 1990’s, you see Derrick Thomas (so far).

Personally, I think Lewis is the lock of this generation. (I’m not touching his past legal situation here.) That leaves Urlacher “competing” with Brooks and Seau. It’s not out of the question, but I’d say that dynamic is one of the reasons Urlacher is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.