I only interviewed Brian Urlacher once last season, but it was a good one. It was Nov. 9, a Friday, two days before the Texans game. The Bears were 7-1 and winners of six straight. They’d just mollywomped the Titans in Nashville 51-20, a game in which Urlacher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown. And this was a Friday post-practice locker room, always the loosest and rowdiest time.
I was interviewing defensive linemen for a feature on the d-line “Rush Men” unit and was between interviews when Matt Forte snuck into the locker room carrying a giant cardboard box over his head, tip-toe’d behind defensive end Cheta Ozougwu and slammed the box over Ozougwu’s head and shoulders, pinning his arms to his body.
This nearly caused a riot. Guys reacted as if Forte had steamrolled Ozougwu in a full-contact practice. I immediately decided that I had to learn more. But no one was talking. I kept getting the company lines: “We don’t talk about the box game with the media” or “Oh, it’s just something we do around here.”
Finally one defensive player talked. He laid out the basics: it’s a game where you try to box people up; the defensive line is like the Bad Boy Pistons (the best team) while Urlacher is like Jordan (the best player); because of that, there is a beef between the d-line and the linebackers, which resulted most recently in Israel Idonije leading a sneak attack on Urlacher in a stairwell. Boxing Urlacher was the team's latest pranking success story--someone even got it on tape, and Urlacher himself spoke candidly about getting boxed up with Robbie Gould on Gould’s interview show “The Final Horn.”
Anyhow, I was conducting the interview with this defensive player with my back to the exit, and all of a sudden the locker room was way too quiet. I turned around and saw that I was the last reporter there. So I asked Jared from media relations how much more time we had in the locker room. “Ten minutes,” he said.
“Then why did everybody leave?” I asked.
“Deadlines?” he said with a shrug. I turned back around to check the scene, and sitting at his locker now was Urlacher. He was talking to an equipment manager, comparing various pairs of cleats.
At this point, the only contact I’d had with Urlacher were a few questions during his pressers throughout the season. The guys who do regular press conferences—Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Urlacher, Lance Briggs in 2012--don’t have to talk in the locker room, and when Urlacher is in the locker room with the media, he tends to keep his conversations friendly, be it chatting with teammates, team staff or even a few reporters with whom he has a rapport.
But shit, I thought to myself, I had a nibble on this box game thing, and Urlacher seemed at the center of it. No harm in saying hello and broaching the subject. Plus, this was my best chance to have any kind of one-on-one with Urlacher, easily the best Chicago Bear of my generation and a man beloved by his teammates. It seemed like every player--no matter his position, age or year on the team--had an Urlacher story he wanted to volunteer. They marveled at his complete knowledge of the defense, how he knew every player’s assignment and seemed to know the opponent’s plays too. They talked about how they wished to meet his standards and follow his example, and how strenuous yet rewarding it was to actually do so. They talked about his kindness, his humor, his pranks, his desire to win all competitions, his teaching and the way he set the standard for personal interaction among teammates, coaches and team staff.
I’d seen that too: Urlacher talks to everyone at Halas Hall, from teammates to coaches to reporters to cafeteria staff to trainers to the masseuse to kids visiting with their grandparents. He’s a “Hiya!” guy--friendly, outgoing, and inviting.
“Excuse me Brian?” I said. “Hi, I’m Jack Silverstein. Got a minute?”
“I don’t usually talk to the media on Fridays,” he said, pausing oddly and making a slow “buuuuuut” face, “but uh, yeah sure.” I pulled out my tape recorder. “You might not like my answers,” he said, “but go ahead.”