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And Another Thing

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'Bye, 54

I don't know if Brian Urlacher will stick to his guns and stay retired. It's the most seductive of sports, football, and its powers of persuasion have turned to water the convictions of stronger men.

If it weren't true, so many of them wouldn't risk permanent brain damage to play it longer than absolutely necessary, or at least longer than is wise.

So, right now, let's just cross our fingers and raise a glass to Urlacher, who's walking away while he can still walk away. He is, apparently, still in awesome shape. And he obviously still has all his mental faculties, because he can see the handwriting on the wall and not be deluded into thinking it says something it doesn't.

When he announced his retirement the other day, he alluded to as much, saying he didn't want to finish his career as That Guy -- i.e., the former All-Pro reduced to being a spare part the team keeps around in case someone gets hurt. And with his kindred spirit Lovie Smith gone, the fun was clearly gone for him. Why not bow out at his peak, or close to it, rather than just play out what surely would have been an increasingly fraying string?

So, good on Urlacher, and you wish more NFL players could see so clearly when the time came to hang 'em up. He'll retire and leave us all to the great debate over whether or not he was the greatest NFL in Bears history.

It's a heck of a debate, and all I'll say about is this: There have three great linebackers in the modern era in Chicago, and Urlacher's one of them. The other two are Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus.

One was a magnificent hybrid -- part LB, part strong safety. One captained the Bears to their only Super Bowl title. And one, along with Ray Nitschke up in Green Bay, defined the position of middle linebacker for the modern age.

I call that a photo finish. You call it whatever you like.

Ben Smith's blog.

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