It’s probably best that the Vikings’ rumored interest in Brian Urlacher went unrequited. Urlacher retired a Bear, and without coming back five years later and signing one of those silly one-day contracts to pretend he had remained in love with his original organization all along.
Urlacher’s retirement is timely, given the decline in his abilities, and authentic, given that he didn’t seek one last paycheck in a foreign uniform. Great Bears middle linebackers should not freelance near a beach. Lightning bolts and fish shouldn’t adorn their helmets. Butkus and Singletary didn’t wear pastels, or purple.
The Vikings’ history with imported veterans is dicey, anyway. Brett Favre was as much of a tease wearing cleats as he was wearing Crocs. Randy Moss complained about the catering and coaching. Jeff George introduced the term “slappy’’ to the English language and failed to dive for fumbles. Fred Smoot thought, “What if we hold the party this year on a boat?’’ Most tragic, Sean Salisbury went on to become Sean Salisbury.
Urlacher’s retirement might not change the balance of power in the division, given that he made few big plays last year, but it will alter the aura of the NFC North. The Packers are supposed to feature a cocky Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Bears are supposed to feature a star middle linebacker yelling behind the turf stuck in his facemask.
“He’s had a great career,’’ Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Thursday. “He’s been fantastic, and really fit the mold of that Chicago defense over the years, as the middle linebacker, as the heart and soul of the defense, as a leader. When you got ready to play that football team, you always had to find a way to distract Brian.’’
Another former Vikings defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy, used to say that he needed one defender dominant enough to dictate the opponent’s game plan. Dungy, knowing the opponent would commit to double-teaming someone like John Randle, would then scheme to find the holes in that strategy.
Urlacher became that player for the Bears. As a middle linebacker who could cover receivers all over the field, it was as if he were born to play in the Tampa 2 defense popularized by Dungy and another former Vikings assistant coach, Monte Kiffin, when the two worked together with the Buccaneers.
“They were such a big Cover 2 team under Lovie Smith, you’d try to do things to get him out of position, which was hard to do because of his length,’’ Frazier said. “You’d think you had him out of position in coverage, but then he’d recover and make you look bad because of his length and speed. He’d get to the ball when you didn’t think he should.
“We were always trying to show him one thing and then do something different. You had to keep him off-balance.’’
Frazier grew up in Mississippi and attended Alcorn State, yet he knew about legendary Bears middle linebackers when he arrived in Chicago for a tryout in 1981. He had watched Dick Butkus on TV, and he would become close friends and win a Super Bowl for the Bears with Mike Singletary, now on Frazier’s staff.
“Brian played with the type of intensity and passion that you would expect from a Chicago Bears middle linebacker,’’ Frazier said. “Mike was the same way. He always respected Brian’s ability and what he was able to accomplish there. Both of us admired what he meant to that organization.
“You think of the players they’ve had at that position, and the impact they had on the league. Bulldog Turner. Butkus. Mike, and now Brian. We’re talking about Hall of Fame players. Brian came in and kept that tradition going.’’
Frazier was asked whether the Vikings were actually interested in signing Urlacher.
“He is a great player, has been a great player,’’ Frazier said. “But for us, we have some guys on our roster we wanted to look at.’’
That’s probably for the best. You never know whether the new guy is going to like the catering.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org