Urlacher Has A Place On Mount Crushmore
The Chicago Bears are known for their middle linebackers. Have been ever since Bill George lit the torch six decades ago and handed it to Dick Butkus, who shoved it into the belly of Mike Singletary, who passed it to Brian Urlacher, who will take it to the Hall of Fame himself one day soon.
Now that Urlacher has announced his retirement, the Mount Crushmore project can begin in earnest. First, we have to determine the pecking order. Let's break down the candidates in the key categories and award four points for first place, three for second, two for third and one for fourth.
Does that meet your approval, Mr. Butkus, sir ...?
1. Butkus. In nine seasons, he was an eight-time Pro Bowl and five-time All-Pro selection. His career average of 0.41 turnovers per game is off the charts. A right knee injury forced his premature retirement, an injury from which he might have overcome had it occurred years later.
2. George. According to Pro Football Reference, he ranks slightly ahead of Butkus in Approximate Value per game. He was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection seven consecutive times in an era that also featured Sam Huff, Les Richter and Joe Schmidt, future Hall of Famers themselves.
3. Singletary. In 12 seasons, he was a first-team All-Pro seven times (in a span of eight years) and played in 10 Pro Bowl games. At the same time, he had the benefit of future Hall of Fame linemen Richard Dent and Dan Hampton in front of him.
4. Urlacher. An eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, he started at least 14 games in 10 seasons. Until a left knee injury intervened late in his career, he seldom missed a snap on defense.
1. Butkus. A rock-'em, sock-'em style overshadowed his sure hands and straight-line speed. (He also played fullback in high school.) Butkus and Urlacher intercepted 22 passes apiece, but Butkus got his in 63 fewer games.
2. Urlacher. Easily the most athletic of the group, he could cover tight ends and even some slot receivers, which set him apart form most others at the position. At the time of his retirement, the converted safety ranked third in interceptions among active linebackers.
3. George. His 18 career interceptions are even more impressive when one considers that they came in a run-dominated era. He had a nose for the ball like few middle linebackers ever, such was his ability to sniff out plays.
4. Singletary. Early in his career, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan wouldn't allow him to drop back in obvious pass situations. In time, he became a capable pass defender, although he never picked off more than one pass in any season largely because of limited opportunities.
1. Butkus. Surely, you've heard the stories and seen the film clips by now. Suffice it to say, Dick Buttkick was the greatest intimidator at any position in football history.
2. Singletary. Think this guy liked to hit people? Legend has it he broke 16 helmets at Baylor. He ranked no worse than second in tackles in each one of his 12 seasons in a Bears uniform.
3. George. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, George and teammate Doug Atkins were among the most destructive forces in the league. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, the one-time nose guard lined up over the center and single-handedly destroyed their double-wing shotgun offense, which was scrapped a short time later.
4. Urlacher. While not a softie by any means, his skill set worked best in open space.
Range and mobility
1. Urlacher. Not only could he make plays from sideline to sideline, but he was tantamount to an extra defensive back downfield oftentimes. Overlooked is the fact that he averaged nearly 5.5 sacks in his first six seasons in the league.
2. Butkus. Before knee problems late in his career, he could cover most tight ends as well as the outer thirds of the field.
3. Singletary. Because his primary role was to plug gaps in the run game, the so-called box was his office. He combined strength and quickness, which allowed him to shed blockers and get to the ball carrier without wasted movement.
4. George. At 6-2, 230 pounds, he was among the largest middle linebackers of his era, yet he moved well for his size. He was particularly adept at blitz techniques, which he took to another level.
1. Singletary. As the defensive captain of the vaunted 46 Defense – remember those bugged-out eyes? – he demanded accountability on the field. As talented as they were, it wasn't always easy to handle the many egos and personalities around him.
2. Butkus. In four of his last five seasons, he was the only member of the defense to merit Pro Bowl consideration. Yet despite the ordinary talent around him, the unit was competitive throughout his career. Go ahead, you quit on this guy.
3. George. He called the shots for a group that was the scourge of the league for 10 seasons.
4. Urlacher. On the field, he was more of a leader-by-example type than the others. But no player was afforded greater respect in the locker room.
So there you have it. Put Butkus (18 points) at the far left, slightly apart from the others. Then it's Singletary (12), George (10) and Urlacher (10) closely bunched next to him.
(Warning: If Urlacher goes all Favre on us, then we'll put a Green Bay Packer in his place.)
Hammer and chisel please.