EDITOR’S NOTE: The inaugural edition of 101.7 The Team Sports Magazine, dedicated to ex-UNM Lobo Brian Urlacher, is free on the newsstands and distribution locations can be found on this site. The 48-page magazine chronicles Urlacher’s path from Lovington, to New Mexico, to the Chicago Bears, to the College Hall of Fame. And as a bonus to loyal fans of ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, here is an extra story on Urlacher’s agent, Bryce Karger, looking back on the setting leading up to the 2000 NFL Draft.
By RICHARD STEVENS
If Bryce Karger could have had his druthers when marketing Brian Urlacher for the 2000 NFL Draft, his first pick probably would have been the Chicago Bears.
The good thing about placing the Bears high on that wish list was the Bears also had plans to draft Urlacher with their No. 9 pick.
“We had feedback that Chicago would draft him, but you never know until it happens,” said Karger, Urlacher’s friend and sports agent, who also was raised in Lovington.
“And It’s not like Brian was coming from Penn State or Ohio State. He dominated his conference, but it was still the Mountain West and people have their perceptions.”
Karger wasn’t positive that Urlacher would go to the Bears because there was a chance that Urlacher wouldn’t be around when it was the Bears turn to pick. Or maybe some players rated higher than Urlacher would still be available.
“I remember thinking Arizona might take Brian at seven and Green Bay also was trying to trade up to get him,” said Karger. “But they couldn’t get better than the Bears’ No. 9 and Green Bay knew the Bears would take him, if he was still around.”
The Draft also can be unpredictable. If the Cleveland Browns had not picked Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown with the No. 1 pick and Brown was still floating around when the Bear’s drafted – would they have grabbed Brown – the Big Ten Defensive Player of The Year.
Ditto for LaVar Arrington out of Penn State, who many experts saw as the best linebacker available. Arrington was a Parade High School All-American, Dick Butkus Award winner, and finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 1999. Arrington went No. 2 to the Washington Redskins. The Eagles took Florida State’s defensive tackle, Corey Simon, with the No. 6 pick.
That brought Arizona up at No. 7 and Karger knew they liked Urlacher. But the Cardinals also needed to juice up their running game and went with Virginia’s Thomas Jones.
The Bears jumped on Urlacher. He was picked 190 spots higher than a Michigan quarterback named Tom Brady.
Chicago was the ideal spot for Urlacher for several reasons. It was a big-time market. It was a tradition-rich franchise with fans hungry for a defensive hero. It was a fan base that loved linebackers.
“Chicago was the perfect place for Brian,” said Karger. “It’s such a football-rich town with all that tradition.
“They love football and they love the Bears and they love their linebackers. You knew if Brian had success there, it would take him to another level. His jersey was the No. 1 seller in the NFL for two or three years.”
Karger said Chicago “ate him up” because Urlacher fit perfectly into the empty mold the Bears’ fans had been hoping to fill. Molds formed by Dick Butkus, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary. Urlacher was humble and maybe even a bit naïve/unsophisticated coming out of Lovington and New Mexico. The blue-collar heart of Chicago throbs for this type of hero.
There also was the thrill that comes when maybe you aren’t so sure you like what you are getting and then it exceeds expectations. You are hesitant, maybe worried – and then you are wowed.
“The Bears fans see they are getting a safety from New Mexico and they don’t really understand that he’s 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds and can run,” said Karger.
Said Urlacher: “At first, I think a lot of people were asking, “Why are they drafting this kid? If I had told you I thought I could do what I did in Chicago, I would have been lying. There was no way I could have thought that I could go from Lovington to starting at UNM to playing for the Bears.”
Like Karger said, the Chicago Bears’ fans ate Urlacher up mostly because he was devouring the enemy ball carriers of Chicago. Urlacher was sensational in his rookie year and Chicago had a defensive hero to embrace and adore.
Urlacher, just like he was at New Mexico, was the reluctant hero.
“Brian was never completely comfortable with the spotlight,” said Karger. “He liked it when his teammates had success because he didn’t want it to be about him.
“He didn’t like doing things like commercials or appearances. Getting him to a function wasn’t always easy, but once you got him there, he was great. Everyone liked him and he would do whatever they asked.
“People at these events have heard the stories about other athletes who weren’t that easy to work with or always showed up late or left early. Brian never let me down and he has this thing about being on time. I never had a complaint about Brian, not even close.”
Urlacher had the chance to move into the booth after his NFL career, but chose to give that time to his family.
“There is a no more deserving individual to be included in any type of Hall of Fame whether it is high school or college or the NFL,” said Karger.
“Brian is someone the state of New Mexico can always be proud of.”