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Published: Friday, 2/2/2007

Urlacher restores growl; helps make Bears Monsters of Midway again

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE COLUMNIST
Brian Urlacher may not have the prized diamond ring yet, but he is immensely popular, ranking as one of the 10 most recognized players in the NFL.
Brian Urlacher may not have the prized diamond ring yet, but he is immensely popular, ranking as one of the 10 most recognized players in the NFL.
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MIAMI - Brian Urlacher deserves credit for dragging the "The Monsters of the Midway" comparison out of mothballs.

The grizzly linebacker is the man in the middle of the Chicago Bears' defense, and the one most responsible for the team's resurgence.

Urlacher has done just about everything imaginable on a football field, except hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

He could cement his superstar status by leading the Bears to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium.

Urlacher has been focused on winning football's top prize all year, but he doesn't necessarily think he needs to earn a ring to be considered a great player.

"Some pretty good players haven't won a Super Bowl," he said. "Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus - there's two pretty good ones right there."

Urlacher may not have the prized diamond ring yet, but he is immensely popular, ranking as one of the 10 most recognized players in the NFL.

His No. 54 jersey is one of the hottest selling items on the market.

At present, Urlacher appears on commercials for AT&T, Nike and McDonald's, but it's not like he needs the money.

He signed a nine-year con-tract for more than $50 million with the Bears in 2003. And he briefly dated hotel heiress Paris Hilton in 2004.

Urlacher is revered by his teammates, coaches and fans, and respected by his opponents.

"He's one of the best guys you'll ever meet, one of the best superstars you'll ever get a chance to be around," said Bears coach Lovie Smith, a former Ohio State assistant.

Urlacher, a 6-4, 258-pound terminator, is a member of the Bears' storied middle linebacker legacy.

Three greats who preceded him - Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary - are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Butkus is the first one to admit that Urlacher is ferocious enough to have played in his era, which covered 1965-73.

Keep in mind, playing middle linebacker in Chicago for the Bears is akin to pitching for the New York Yankees, or toiling at center for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's a tradition like few others.

"I know all about it," said Urlacher, who led the Bears in tackles once again this year and earned his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl.

"The media in Chicago has talked about it all the time since day one when I got there. That's all I've heard about. It's a huge honor to be able to play the same position as Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.

"It's a great honor to play in Chicago as a middle linebacker because of the tradition. At the same time, people compare me to them all the time, and it's not fair for me to be compared to them because they are in the Hall of Fame.

"Maybe when I'm done, I'll be there. Who knows?"

Just seven years ago, Urlacher was a promising first-round draft pick who suffered through a 5-11 rookie season. After experiencing a 13-3 record in 2001, the Bears promptly went 4-12, 7-9 and 5-11.

He has enjoyed the quick turnaround under Smith the last two years, but Urlacher has a hard time forgetting the lean seasons.

He may be a big-time star, but he sure doesn't act like one.

Maybe, when he's done, Urlacher will join the Bears' Big 3 in the Hall of Fame.

That's a few years still to come.

Meantime, Urlacher is making final preparations for the biggest game of his life.

The Super Bowl is where legends are made.

"I can't wait," he said.

In an era where the attitude of many NFL players comes into question, there is no doubt where Urlacher stands.

In the middle.

Right where the game will be decided.

Contact Blade columnist Ron Musselman at: mussel@theblade.com or 419-724-6474.



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