Dick Butkus. Gale Sayers. Walter Payton. Mike Singletary.
Those are just four of the 28 hall of fame players from Chicago that Green Bay has faced over the past 99 seasons This weekend, former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher becomes the latest Packer nemesis to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Urlacher’s career spanned 13 seasons from 2000-2012, all with the Bears. His name became a source of pain almost immediately to Packers fans as he lodged his third career sack roughly halfway through his rookie season at the expense of quarterback Brett Favre. It’s a moment Urlacher remembers well.
“I remember my first game at Lambeau Field and I got a sack versus (Favre),” Urlacher said. “I don’t think he realized how close I was and he tried to outrun me and I got him on the sideline.”
Little did the Packers know that sack by the ninth overall pick in that season’s draft was just the beginning of a legendary career for yet another Chicago linebacker and a player who would be a thorn in the side of the Packers for the next several seasons.
Urlacher didn’t end up on the winning side of football’s greatest rivalry too often, as the Bears went 9-18 against Green Bay including playoffs during his time in Chicago, but he still made life miserable for the Packers. One of his most famous plays came in December of 2007 when in the middle of what was a storybook season for the Packers, Urlacher ran a Favre interception back 85 yards for a touchdown and Chicago throttled Green Bay at Soldier Field by a score of 35-3.
This would be the last time Urlacher would face Favre as a member of the Packers (Favre returned to the NFC North as member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 and 2010) and Urlacher mentioned how much fun he had playing against the Ol’ Gunslinger.
“(Favre) was fun because I watched him as a kid and he played all those games against the Cowboys in the playoffs,” Urlacher said. “He was so fun because he was like a big kid. He was throwing the ball all over the place like he was playing at school.”
Once Favre left for greener (and then more purple) pastures, Urlacher might have thought the Bears would have a shot at unseating the Packers as the dominant team in the division.
Enter Aaron Rodgers.
Urlacher instead now had the unenviable task of facing back-to-back hall of fame-caliber quarterbacks under center for Green Bay. While Rodgers and Favre had very different skill sets, there were also similarities in the eyes of the linebacker. Namely, how Rodgers would engage the opponent in banter at the line.
“Aaron, same way (as Favre). We had fun,” Urlacher remarked. “Our pre-snap conversations, and I’m not talking like which way we were going, I’m talking about conversations at the line of scrimmage.”
Rodgers and Urlacher had their moments as well. During the 2010 NFC Championship Game, the Packers were leading 14-0 and were knocking on the door again when Urlacher intercepted a Rodgers pass and nearly ran it back for a touchdown had the quarterback not made a heads up shoestring tackle to trip Urlacher up.
As fun as it was matching wits with Rodgers, familiarity led to predictability for Urlacher and the Packers and it went both ways. Urlacher played only for Dick Jauron and Lovie Smith in Chicago and only faced Green Bay opponents coached by either Mike Sherman or Mike McCarthy. That level of consistency between both franchises led to very few on-field surprises to longtime veterans like Urlacher.
“They knew what we were doing and we knew what they were doing,” Urlacher commented. “We were in cover 2; they run it. We were in Cover 1; they throw it. So there really was no tricking each other.”
That familiarity usually worked out more often for the Packers than the Bears, but Urlacher feels fortunate to have been just a small part of a rivalry that will soon be approaching the century mark in length.
“It’s been an honor,” Urlacher remarked when asked what it meant to be part of the Packers-Bears rivalry. “It’s, my opinion, the best rivalry in professional sports.”
While Urlacher may have caused many Packer fans to gnash their teeth in frustration when he was on the field, now that his career is over and he’s being enshrined in Canton, everyone can tip their cheesehead in salute to one of the greatest Chicago Bears to ever play the game of football.