On a weekend when people mourned the shooting of 26 innocent people in Newtown, Connecticut and others simply imagined the horror that took place, some of us turned to NFL football as a stopgap or relief from the madness of everyday life. We do this on many weekends - when the overwhelming stress of jobs, kids, bills and other responsibilities can be relieved for a couple of hours as we cheer on or suffer with our heroes or our teams. On this same weekend, a hero (and I use the term euphemistically) to many Chicago Bears fans - Brian Urlacher committed, what should be deemed, the ultimate football player sin - he insulted those very fans.
As Chicago Bears fans, we have endured a long history of suffering. In fact, many of us have grown up in families who have suffered over generations. Don't get me wrong, my family has enjoyed some Bears related happiness - my father enjoyed the championship of 1963 and I am among the many who still recall the glory days of the 1985 Super Bowl Bears. The current team and the Lovie Smith-era Bears has been particularly difficult to like. While Lovie seems to be a good technical coach from a defensive perspective, over the nine years that he has led this team, there has been a palpable lack of energy that has carried over to the fans. This is true even with the team that Lovie took to the Super Bowl in 2007. Devin Hester was exciting, but it was primarily a no-name bunch of players.
We, as fans however, seem to generate our own energy regardless of the nature or makeup of the team. The exception over the past 10 or so years has been the overwhelming outpouring of fan love for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Since his rookie season, Urlacher has been a mainstay with fans as they have annointed him as the successor to the great Bears' Hall of Fame linebackers of the past - Bill George, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary. As an athlete, Urlacher has not disappointed, earning several Pro Bowl selections and playing with the kind of dedication and energy that Bears fans look for. As a person, Urlacher's life has taken a few twists and turns, but that can be expected with a young man who has millions and who occasionally associates himself with socialites. The media will cover his socializing and Urlacher knows that.
What Urlacher should also know, as does anyone who attends a Bears game at Soldier Field, is that there are thousands of people wearing Bears jerseys with his name and number on the back. Bears fans have made his jersey one of the top selling jerseys in the NFL, if not the most popular, over the course of his career. I've seen Urlacher standing on the sidelines looking up into the stands during games, when he's hurt and dressed in sweats, when he's playing and yucking it up while the Bears have a big lead, or when the Bears are losing and he can't bear to look at the offense. As far as his eyes can see, he can't help but see his name plastered on the back of the die-hard fans filling Soldier Field.
Given the current state of the Bears and the millions of fans who look to our Sunday afternoons as an escape from life's realities, Brian Urlacher has been a mainstay in our temporary reality-free lives. For being that mainstay, he's been handsomely rewarded: In 2008, Urlacher signed a five-year, $40.6 million contract. The deal included a $6 million signing bonus and a third-year $1.3 million roster bonus. In addition to that, annual $50,000 workout bonuses were available from 2008-2011. In 2012, Urlacher is making $7.5 million (+ $500,000 workout bonus). In 2013, Brian Urlacher is a free agent.
But now, it's time for Urlacher to say good-bye and time for Bears fans to help him find the exit door. To Bears management: Let him go. He's hurt, he keeps getting hurt and he's an asshole.
In an interview on Sunday night after the Bears lost again to the Packers, Fox TV sports anchor Lou Canellis said to Urlacher, "There's a pretty strong cry by fans and media for a coaching change ... " Urlacher responded:
"Two of the people I don't care about are fans and media...I don't care what they say. They don't know that they're talking about."
This is not the first time Urlacher has insulted his fan base. And, it doesn't appear that he cared then or that he cares now. Perhaps he knew that this Packers game was the last home game for him as a Bear as he enters his free agent year. Maybe he plans to retire. Maybe he knows that he will sign somewhere else. Or maybe, he's just an idiot. Maybe he hasn't realized that his $7.5 million salary for 2012 was generated from the very fans who he doesn't care about and who don't know anything.
Maybe the Packers' Jermichael Finley had something when he said the Bears are better without Brian Urlacher. I hope so.
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