Dick Butkus. Mike Singletary. Brian Urlacher.
In Chicago, these players are more than just linebackers. They are more than just first-ballot hall of famers. They are even more than the game of football itself. They are everything that epitomizes this great city. They are Monsters of the Midway. They are the Chicago Bears.
Heading into the last year of his contract, Brian Urlacher recently talked to ESPN 1000 about the idea of impending free agency. If not re-signed after the 2012 season, this will be the first time he's ever hit the open market.
“I’ve never been a free agent,” Urlacher said. “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 you bring in free agency and all that you just never know what’s gonna happen.”
Obviously, like every member of the Bears faithful, Urlacher wants to finish his career in Chicago. But, to think about the face of the Bears' franchise for the last decade and a half in a another uniform, sickens me, as it should every Bears fan.
I understand that professional football is first and foremost a business, especially these days. Seeing a guy like Peyton Manning sign with another team is the most recent glaring example of that. Should Urlacher be exempt from the business aspect? Is it Phil Emery and the McCaskey family's responsibility to do everything they can to work out an exit plan for #54? I believe so.
Some will argue that even the greatest quarterback of all-time, Joe Montana, wore a different uniform to finish out his career. Yes, but Steve Young, an eventual hall of famer, was itching to get his chance to prove he could be a great quarterback in the NFL. In that instance, management had to go with the future.
With no heir-apparent in the middle of the Bears’ defense, there has to be something worked out for the front office, Urlacher, and the fans.
As one of the most historical franchises in the NFL, the Bears should be held to a higher standard regarding certain things. Handling how legends leave the team is one of them. Also like Butkus and Singletary, Urlacher represents a generation of Bears fans. Previous generations never had to endure the thought of any of these former players playing for another team to close their careers.
Neither should this one.