As I've written about here before, the NFL Draft has always been a rather important event to me. One that I loved spending my entire weekend watching. Well, one year when I was 19, there was a obstacle between myself and watching the draft. My mom's friend had recently split from her husband and she really needed somebody to watch her two kids on a Saturday. Unbeknownst to me, my mother volunteered me to watch them.
Yes, that's right, somebody actually felt like having 19-year old Tom watch their two children was a more appealing option than leaving them both at home alone for a day.
The Saturday I'd spend babysitting was also the first day of the NFL Draft, so I wasn't exactly thrilled with my mom for offering up my services, but I did it anyway. Besides, how hard could it be to babysit a 10-year old and an 8-year old?
It turned out to be pretty easy, honestly. I let them do whatever the hell they wanted for the most part, and I sat in the basement watching the NFL Draft while they played with their toys around me.
It was also on that day that the Chicago Bears drafted Brian Urlacher with the ninth pick of the draft. I had two initial responses to the draft pick.
The first one was "who the fuck is Brian Urlacher?" The second was "what the fuck kind of name is Urlacher?"
Now, since this was the Bears first round pick, I spent a lot of time looking for the answer to that first question, and the more I learned, the more I liked. On Tuesday my colleague at CBSSports.com, Bruce Feldman, released his annual Freaks List of the most amazing athletes in college football. Well, if Bruce had been doing that column in the late 90s, it's a foregone conclusion that Brian Urlacher would have made the list.
Urlacher finished his college career at New Mexico with 442 tackles, 11 forced fumbles and he also caught 6 touchdowns as a receiver while returning 5 punts for a touchdown. Had he put up numbers like that at a college that wasn't New Mexico odds are he wouldn't have made it all the way to the Bears with the ninth pick.
Of course, those stats didn't quite tell the whole story of Brian Urlacher. I didn't get to really see what kind of football player he was until he put on the Bears uniform and I was able to watch him on Sundays. And, man, what a pleasure that was.
In my lifetime I've seen a lot of great football players, but Urlacher was the first Hall of Famer whom I had the privilege of watching up close for his entire career, and it was a fantastic career. The man was an athletic marvel, capable of doing things that men his size just weren't supposed to do. The thing that stood out more than anything else was his speed, but he was also incredibly strong and very smart on the football field.
He was the football player I had always wanted to be growing up.
His jersey was the first Chicago Bears jersey I ever owned as well. Not Walter Payton, not Richard Dent, not Mike Singletary. Brian Urlacher's. I still have it hanging in my closet.
I don't wear it anymore, as I'm 32 years old and if you're wearing jerseys into your thirties then something along the way has gone horribly awry. But I suppose I may put it back on one more time should I visit Canton for his Hall of Fame induction.
It'd be the least I could do to show my thanks for 13 amazing years with the Chicago Bears and for showing me what my career would have looked like if I grew up to be the football player I always wanted to be.