It’s always sad to see a great athlete hang up his cleats for good, but in the case of Brian Urlacher, who announced his retirement from professional football earlier this week, he’s going out at the right time and in the right way. Urlacher is retiring before his play takes a significant downward turn and before he becomes a shadow of the player he once was. He’s ending his career with class and dignity, a career that he devoted entirely to one team and that will undoubtedly carry him to Canton one day.
Urlacher said it best himself in his retirement statement, “I’m not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that’s up to my standards.” It’s difficult for a professional athlete, especially one the caliber of Urlacher, to admit this personally, much less admit it publically, but Urlacher being able to come out and say this shows great character. After an outstanding 13-year career, it’s tough to admit that you’re not the player you were, that you can’t play at the same high level that you once did, and that your passion for the game isn’t what it needs to be to compete against a new generation of players, and Urlacher should be admired for being able to come to grips with that and walk away from the game when he knows his time has come.
The cynics will say that Urlacher is too proud and arrogant to take a meager contract offer and accept a diminished role on a team, but there’s nothing wrong with Urlacher being proud of the player he was. The simple act of retiring is acknowledging that is no longer capable of being an elite player. He doesn’t need to fall deep into mediocrity with the entire league watching to know that, and so retiring when he was still one of the best at his position instead of becoming a second-tier player is an admirable act.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of Urlacher’s retirement is the timing of it. Retiring at this time of the year means that it was a well thought out decision, and not an over reaction to any one thing. The timing also means that news of his retirement is not interfering with anything else on the NFL calendar. Urlacher isn’t drawing attention away from the end of the regular season, the postseason, the draft, or even the start of the regular season, which is still more than 100 days away. He’s not trying to make a big deal out of his retirement, he’s not leaving the door open for a comeback, nor is he trying to create some kind of narcissistic farewell tour for himself; he’s merely making a well thought out decision with regards to his future.
Now that Urlacher is officially retired, it’s only a matter of time until he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While stats aren’t quite as important for defensive players as they are for offensive players, Urlacher is one of just four players with more than 40 sacks and more than 20 interceptions in his career, putting him in elite company. He was a transformative player at the middle linebacker position, leading a new generation of middle linebackers that are as fast as they are physical and impactful against both the run and the pass.
Urlacher was a key player and a leader on one of the NFL’s best defensive teams during his time in the league. There should be no debate as to Urlacher’s credentials, and it’ll be simply a matter of when, not if, he gets into the Hall of Fame. The wait for the Hall of Fame begins now, after Urlacher chose the right time and the right way to hang up his cleats and retire from football.