Take a walk anywhere around Albuquerque and you'd be hard-pressed to find a place not infused with Brian Urlacher's image. A handful of game-worn, autographed jerseys greet you at Frontier when cramming for a final and ingesting an unhealthy number of sweet rolls. A monstrous mural of Urlacher in cherry and silver swallows the western end of University Stadium. Rumor has it that Urlacher is in talks to open a sports bar a mere stone's throw away from The Pit to help spearhead new commercial development in the area.
Oh, and that's not even taking into account what he went on to achieve in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
Urlacher was a New Mexico Lobo first and foremost, and one that is unequivocally revered as the finest athlete to ever come out of the arid high desert.
Urlacher's career with the Lobos saw him arrive as a sort of jack-of-all-trades, having put in time at running back, wide receiver and defensive back for the Lovington High Wildcats of Lovington, New Mexico. It was UNM head coach Rocky Long that later converted Urlacher into a linebacker, coining the term "Lobo-Back" as a type of hybrid linebacker/free safety that took advantage of Urlacher's coverage prowess.
Urlacher's defensive dominance was duly noted after finishing his New Mexico career with 442 tackles--third most in school history--along with three interceptions, 11 sacks and 11 forced fumbles. After being selected ninth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, Urlacher seamlessly became the vocal, hard-hitting embodiment of the Chicago Bears' dominant defense for more than a decade.
In an era of tight end-centric spread offenses, a talent like Urlacher's is increasingly rare to find. Top-flight cornerbacks may be awarded the headlines after limiting a team's most prolific wide receiver, but Urlacher managed to shut down the entire middle of a football field--an area where the NFL's explosive offenses make their living.
Whether Urlacher's résumé is 'good enough' to secure a bust in Canton will remain to be seen, but a timely end to an illustrious career will be sure to keep his reputation firmly entrenched at the top. It's not often a defensive player manages to become a household name mentioned in the same breath as glamorous rock-slinging quarterbacks, but Urlacher did it. Laying claim to two cities he could realistically be handed the keys to is just the tip of the iceberg; Urlacher, at the University of New Mexico and at the Chicago Bears, was an immense privilege to watch.