All things that are good, or bad, must inevitably come to an end. In the case of Chicago Bears future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, that impending reality is closing in. Brian is in the final year of his $40million, 5-year contract, signed in 2008. He is currently set to make around $7.5mil in his final year, but money isn't what it is about for Brian. His legacy on and off the field is top priority, and higher than that is finishing his career with a Super Bowl. And while he hopes to finish his career as a Bear, however experience has shown the 13 year vet - for some players his age - that the NFL is a business, not a relationship. As he enters the final year, there aren't any contract talks expected as OTA's have begun and training camp, then pre-season football, followed by the 2013 NFL regular season is impending. He notes that his performance will be monitored in efforts to negotiate a new deal, he told NFL.com in an interview,
"I think Ted Phillips said they are going to wait until the season is over to see what happens -- how I play," Urlacher told WMVP-AM about any contract progress. "It's kind of exciting. I've never been a free agent. So, if I can get to free agency, we'll see what happens. "I no doubt want to finish my career here. There's no doubt about that. But if you bring in free agency you never know what can happen. You know, the Bears know I want to be here. I've said it publicly and that's not going to change. Whatever happens during the season or after the season, we'll address it then."
Urlacher is the last of a dying breed in Bears football. A "Monster of the Midway", an unforgiving, punishing tenacious tradition of smash-mouth football players that have graced Soldier Field live on in city and sports history. From Mike Singletary to Dick Butkis and Bill George, Brian has cemented himself into the pantheon of Bears greats. He brought life back into a Bears franchise and fanbase suffering from being 46 wins and 66 losses removed from Da' Ditka-era.
Brian is set to lead all Bears in a few defensive categories. Fans young and now some a little older have - for more than a decade - grown accustomed to seeing the number 54 grazing the middle of the field. The same way many in the 60's-70's saw No. 51 and the 80's watched No. 50.
So as it were, no matter if Brian plays elsewhere to end his career or not, it will take some time for Bears fans to get adjusted to not watching his dominance. To aid in this "grief" if you will, I have developed a scientific approach to getting adjusted to life after Brian.
7 Stages of Urlacher Grief
1.) Shock & Denial
This is the immediate most stage of coming to grips. As reports begin to surface, and the mecurial Urlacher begin to speak more, reality starts to set in. We all knew this was bound to happen.
It all seems so sudden, as it were just yesterday the Bears took a chance on the 1999 consensus All-American with the 9th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. 13 seasons, 999 total tackles, a rookie and a Defensive Player of the Year award, and 8 Pro-Bowls later, it all seems like a dream. However, the reality of it all is, Brian and the Bears do need to move on soon. How soon seems t0 be the attraction of the situation.
2.) Pain & Guilt
For many Bears fans, we remember where the team was prior to the Urlacher-era. Remember Barry Minter? He started from 1997-2000 full time as Chicago's middle linebacker. In those season's he posted 242 tackles, 10 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions and a touchdown. Minter went down in Week 2 of the 2000 season and was replaced by Urlacher, who at the time was beat out during the preseason by Rosevelt Colvin for the strong side linebacker spot.
Urlacher, who would assume AP Defensive Player of the Year that season, held on to the spot and never let go. Leaving many to wonder what would've been in the Minter era. After losing his position to Urlacher, Minter played one game for the Cleveland Browns, then retired.
3.) Anger & Bargaining
Urlacher has made tens of millions of dollars playing for the Chicago Bears. Far exceeding any amount from his predecessors. So for the sake of loyalty we will all assume that he should humble himself and sacrifice for the good of the team. Who cares if he wants to set himself up for a nice contract that will enable him to do whatever it is he wants to do upon retirement. For the good of the team, right?
What's this? He does want a test free agency to see what's out there? So it is about the money? Are you kidding me? How selfish is that? He knows Matt Forte deserves a
Top 5 Top 3 running back contract extension, doesn't he?
Ok, well the Bears owe it to him. After all the great seasons he has given the team. The hard work and dedication to the craft. Seamlessly adapting to new coach Lovie Smith and the Tampa-2 system that seemed to be designed for his skill set. I understand not wanting the veterans minimum, but there has to be some middle ground they can reach, right?
What's that? The Bears front office doesn't want to talk until after the season?
4.) Reflection, Depression and lonliness
This is maybe one of the lowest points in our process of getting over 54. Once reality sets in, we begin to remember what it was we had. The never say die attitude. The bluntness with the savage Chicago media through the tough times, and the exact attitude during the good times. Never changing, always real.
And then the show must end. Someone else will assume that position, but never like 54, but who? Urlacher is already one of the best linebackers in the NFL, so unless the Bears make a blockbuster trade, or the great linebacker pops up in the college ranks, it is safe to say we may face a rare "dark age" at the middle linebacker position.
Ah, those great 3-and-outs at the Lakefront. Those truly were the days.
5.) The "Upward Turn"
Once you have played R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World" enough times to subconsciously play it for the rest of your life, you are now ready to turn this pity ship around. Realize that the same way the Bears transitioned from Singletary to Urlacher, there is some young chap out there deserving of your potential support.
This is a pivotal, yet fragile point in the process. If you latch on to something that isn't the one, it could prove tragic to all the progress you've made in moving on. So listen closely to your heart, and some of your trusted experts, but most importantly trust your eye. It may take a while, but you will be proud of the position once again.
And if not, just enjoy Devin Hester. While we still have him.
6.) Reconstruction/ Working through
Like many have done with their old Michael Jordan jerseys, turn your subjective negative into a positive. Now that Urlacher's career is over, it's now time to celebrate and honor. You can begin your Hall of Fame man-cave setup and insert 54 into his rightful place among Chicago's greats.
This part of the process also matures your mind. It opens up your interest to other players such as Lance Briggs, currently the closet active player to Urlacher on the roster. The All-Pro and 7-time Pro-Bowl outside linebacker will truly be this generations last call at that position.
The deadly comic-book nerd Briggs has created a following all his own, and his performance speaks for it all. At age 31, we still have some time to enjoy his time in Chicago, as Bears front office extended him an extra season making Briggs a Bear until 2015.
And that will be another 7 steps all within itself.
7.) Acceptance and Hope
Taking all previous steps into account. You realize that this is a football team. A collection of 54 men working together to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. Players will come and go, but we as Bears fans realize at the end of the day it is about the Bear, and only the Bear.
No matter what Urlacher's decision is after this season, or Bears front office. I appreciate the past 13 seasons and hope to have 14 and more. I hope Bears nation feels the same way.