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COLUMN

For Urlacher, retiring as a Chicago Bear is the perfect exit

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For more on the NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

He spent 13 seasons at linebacker for the Bears

Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 7:41 am

I never would have pegged Brian Urlacher as the sentimental type, but I love that he is.

Urlacher announced his retirement Wednesday, saying one of the reasons he has decided to leave the NFL now is the fact he likes the idea of having played his entire career with one team, the Chicago Bears.

"After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made a decision to retire," Urlacher posted on Twitter. "Although I could continue playing, I'm not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that's up to my standards. When considering this along with the fact I could retire after a 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear."

Here's where cynics can go to work. “Well, if another team had shown any real interest…”

Yes, there will be those who dismiss Urlacher's reasoning as rationalizing. It seems none of the other 31 teams pursued him seriously when he and the Bears separated in March, after the Bears offered him a considerable pay cut. So he was left with not playing when free agency fizzled. Suddenly, cynics may say, retiring as a Chicago Bear had an enormous appeal.

Maybe there's an element of no other choice in Urlacher's “decision” to retire. Maybe it's not just about his feeling that he couldn't bring the right amount of passion anymore as he closes in on 35. Maybe he's been forced into this sentimental ending by circumstances and the business side of the NFL.

Frankly, I don't care. I like the sentimental ending.

Brian Urlacher is a Chicago Bear forever now, just as he should be.

That wasn't going to change in perception, necessarily, if he had put on another uniform for a final year or two. Joe Montana is always a 49er at heart. I suspect Peyton Manning will always be a Colt. But they changed uniforms. Did anyone want to see Urlacher in, say, Tennessee Titans colors? Outside of a Bears or Urlacher hater, I can't imagine anyone who'd want that.

Urlacher was born to play linebacker for the Bears. He was a modern-day Dick Butkus, a perfect update to the gritty, hard-hitting persona that once conjured the nickname of “Monsters of the Midway.”

Urlacher was tough and intelligent, capable of running the Bears' mostly successful defense as the linchpin for a decade-plus.

He wasn't lovable as a personality, nor would we really want him to be. A Chicago Bears linebacker should be ruthless, aggressive and cocky. If he'd have been a softy off the field, it wouldn't have worked. Urlacher dealt with the media as a necessary evil, and that fit the mold, too.

Urlacher retires the same year as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, minus the farewell dance tour.

I'd like to think Urlacher ultimately prefers it this way, with a quick and graceful goodbye rather than some sort of feel-good going away party that overshadows the team.

"I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped me along the way," Urlacher said. "I will miss my teammates, my coaches, and the great Bears fans. I'm proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss this great game, but I leave it with no regret."

Urlacher went to eight Pro Bowls. He set the Bears record for career tackles. He started 180 games. Imagine the wear on a body after 180 games at linebacker. That he played all that time and remained at such a high level is impressive, too.

Start working on the Hall of Fame bust. It will say, without any side notes: Brian Urlacher, linebacker, Chicago Bears.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.