The Bears selected Urlacher with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Urlacher quickly established himself as one of the NFL's most productive defensive players. After winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award in 2000, he was elected to eight Pro Bowls, and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005. His playing style, accomplishments and reputation have made him one of the team's most popular players. After retiring from professional football, he was briefly an analyst for Fox Sports 1.
Urlacher was born to Bradley and Lavoyda Urlacher in Pasco, Washington, and his parents raised him with his younger brother Casey. After his parents separated, Lavoyda raised Urlacher and his siblings in Lovington, New Mexico. He spent his youth immersed in sports, and developed an interest in football, basketball, track and later table tennis; he graduated from Lovington High School in 1996. While his mother worked several jobs to keep her family afloat, Urlacher spent his teenage years playing sports for Lovington High School and training in weight rooms. The training helped Urlacher gain the speed, stamina, and strength he would need to solidify his football career.
As he progressed through high school, Urlacher gained experience in all three phases of football. He saw playing time as a running back, wide receiver, return specialist, and defensive back. Urlacher led the Lovington High School Wildcats to an undefeated 14–0 season, and a division 3-A state championship. He finished the season with twelve touchdown receptions, six touchdown returns, and two rushing touchdowns. He additionally merited state-recognized honors in football, as well as basketball. Lovington has since recognized Urlacher's accomplishments by retiring his high-school jersey number, and naming a holiday after him.
Urlacher wanted to attend Texas Tech University, but the school did not offer him an athletic scholarship.
Urlacher enrolled at the University of New Mexico, majored in criminology, and played for the New Mexico Lobos football team. The Lobos' head coach, Dennis Franchione, converted Urlacher to linebacker, but often left him on the sidelines in favor of more experienced players. The team finished with winning records during Urlacher's first two years and even made a trip to the 1997 Insight.com Bowl. The team's success prompted Franchione to leave New Mexico in favor of Texas Christian University. His departure prompted the school to hire Rocky Long, a former coach at UCLA.
Urlacher flourished under Long's tenure. Urlacher not only received more playing time, but also played a more versatile role on both offense and defense. Long converted Urlacher into a "Lobo-Back", a cross between a linebacker and free safety, and placed him in a 3-3-5 defense scheme. He spent significant time training with the team's defensive coordinator, Bronco Mendenhall, who helped Urlacher refine his skills as a defensive back. Long also used Urlacher as a return specialist and wide receiver throughout his final two years with the Lobos. Despite Long's extensive changes to the team's roster, formations, and work ethic, the Lobos' performance declined. However, Urlacher became one of the team's most productive players during this time. He finished his career with 442 tackles, three interceptions, 11 sacks, and 11 forced fumbles. Outside of defense, he caught six touchdown passes, and returned five kicks for touchdowns.
After the 1999 season, he was one of the finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, and finished twelfth on the Heisman Trophy ballot. Urlacher received All-American honors from Walter Camp, Football Writers Association of America, and the Associated Press. He played his final collegiate game at the 2000 Senior Bowl, where he was one of the game's top players. Urlacher led the nation with 178 tackles during his junior year, and also set a school record for most tackles in a single season. He finished with the third most career tackles in the University of New Mexico's history. The school has honored Urlacher on several occasions. They awarded him with the Male Athlete of the Year Award in 2000, and held a special halftime ceremony to honor his success in 2006. Urlacher was also the first person to be inducted into the University of New Mexico's Football Wall of Fame. On November 9, 2013, during halftime of New Mexico's game against Air Force, the school retired Urlacher's No. 44 jersey.
Urlacher was considered one of the most talented collegiate prospects in the 2000 NFL Draft, and impressed spectators and analysts at the NFL Scouting Combine by bench pressing 225 pounds twenty-seven times, and completing the forty-yard dash in 4.57 seconds. The Chicago Bears, who were in need of a defensive playmaker after having the 29th ranked defense in 1999, selected Urlacher in the first round, as the draft's ninth overall pick.
He signed a five-year contract, which was worth nearly eight million dollars with a five and a half million dollar signing bonus, within two months of the draft. Dick Jauron, who was then the Bears' head coach, recognized Urlacher's versatility as a middle and outside linebacker, and appointed him as the team's starting strongside linebacker. However, Urlacher struggled to perform consistently in his first professional game, and lost his starting position to Rosevelt Colvin. Jauron left Urlacher on the sidelines during the following week, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shut out the Bears, 41–0.
He managed to regain a starting spot on the Bears' roster, after Barry Minter, the team's veteran middle linebacker, was forced to miss the Week 3 game on account of an injury. Urlacher excelled at the middle linebacker position, and recorded 46 tackles, six sacks, and one interception in his next five starts. Not even a rib cage injury hindered his performance during this period, as Urlacher went on to win the league's Rookie Defensive Player of the Month in October. He led the Bears with 124 tackles and eight sacks, both of which surpassed the franchise's previous rookie records. Although the Bears finished with a disappointing 5–11 record, Urlacher received a number of individual accolades for his performance during the season. Many news organizations, such as the Associated Press and The Sporting News named him as the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Football fans across the nation also voted Urlacher to play at the 2001 Pro Bowl as an alternate middle linebacker. Urlacher's successful rookie campaign served as the foundation for his professional career and reputation.
Urlacher further distinguished himself as one of the Bears' most productive playmakers during the 2001 season. He had one of the best games of his career on October 7, against the Atlanta Falcons. Urlacher held Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who was well known for his scrambling abilities, to 18 rushing yards, and recorded a forced fumble and sack. He also returned one of Vick's fumbles for a 90-yard touchdown. Two weeks later, Urlacher helped set up a Bears comeback victory against the San Francisco 49ers by intercepting a pass, and later setting up a game-winning touchdown return for Mike Brown, after causing 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens to lose control of a pass. He also caught a touchdown pass from punter Brad Maynard off a fake field goal attempt against the Washington Redskins in Week 14, which clinched a first-round bye. Urlacher concluded the season with three interceptions, six sacks, and was a candidate for 2001 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Football Digest named Urlacher their publication's defensive player of the year. The 2001 Chicago Bears won 13 games, marking the team's best finish since 1986, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Bears’ 2001 winning season would be followed by three years of mediocrity. Before the 2004 NFL season, the Bears’ organization fired coach Dick Jauron and then hired Lovie Smith. After starting the season on the lower rungs of the NFC North, Urlacher suffered several injuries that sidelined him for a majority of the season.
In 2005, Urlacher won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after playing for a defensive team that allowed the fewest points per game, and created the most turnovers in the National Football Conference. Urlacher himself recorded at least 10 tackles in six consecutive games, while finishing the season with a team high 121 tackles. He was also credited as one of the team's leaders, whose audibles and experience helped develop several younger teammates. Urlacher led the Bears to an 11-5 record, marking their best finish since 2001. Urlacher played his second career playoff game against the Carolina Panthers on January 15, 2006. He recorded seven tackles and one interception in a 29–21 loss. Urlacher was also selected to the 2006 Pro Bowl, but declined the position on account of an injury.
The team continued their resurgence into the 2006 season, finishing with a record of 13–3. During the season, Urlacher had one of the best performances of his professional career against the Arizona Cardinals. He helped the Bears overcome a 20-point deficit by recording 19 tackles and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Teammate Devin Hester commented on Urlacher's performance, stating, "We watched the film and everybody was saying that he just turned into the Incredible Hulk the last four minutes of the game, just killing people and running over and tackling whoever had the ball." The Bears won the NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints, 39–14, but lost Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts, 29–17. Urlacher finished the season with 93 tackles and three forced fumbles. He was elected to the 2006 All-Pro Team and 2007 Pro Bowl, while also earning consideration for the League's Defensive Player of the Year award.
The Bears were unable to replicate their success in the 2007 season, and finished last in the NFC North. In the middle of the season, Urlacher admitted that he had been suffering from an arthritic back, but later claimed the ailment was not serious. Nevertheless, he finished the season on a high note, registering five interceptions, five sacks, one fumble recovery, 123 tackles, and a defensive touchdown. Following the season's conclusion, Urlacher received minor neck surgery to treat his arthritic back. During the offseason, Urlacher revised his contract with the Bears, who granted him a $6 million signing bonus with a $1 million increase in salary each of the next four years.
Urlacher dislocated his wrist in the 2009 season opener against the Packers. He underwent surgery, and went on to miss the remainder of the season. Urlacher had severely damaged a bone in his wrist that was adjacent to a major nerve. Urlacher was forced to wear a cast on his wrist for 12 weeks and spend a month in therapy to recover from the injury. The Bears began to struggle on offense and defense. As frustration built, Urlacher criticized the Bears offense, stating that the addition of quarterback Jay Cutler had changed the team's identity. The Bears, who have historically employed a strong running game, were beginning to rely more on the pass on offense. He went on to say, "Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth." Urlacher and Cutler later made amends. The Bears finished the season with a 7–9 record, and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
After recovering from the injury, Urlacher stated, "I feel more powerful. I’m running to the football, my keys are a lot more clear now, and I’m playing downhill... So I think it did help my body kind of calm down and relax a little bit. " During the 2010 offseason, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo bolstered the team's defense by signing free agent Julius Peppers.
With Peppers's help, Urlacher and the Bears improved to an 11–5 record in the 2010 NFL season, winning the NFC North and earning a first-round bye for the 2011 Playoffs. After leading the NFC in tackles (49) during the period, Urlacher was recognized as the NFC Defensive Player of the Month during December/January. It was the first time winning the award in his career. Urlacher was also voted to his seventh Pro Bowl for his stellar defensive efforts during the year.
In 2011, in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings, Urlacher sprained his MCL when teammate Major Wright and Vikings receiver Percy Harvin landed on him with 5:15 left in the game. Luckily for him, there was no ACL damage, according to his MRI. Urlacher was eventually named to the Pro Bowl, but didn't play due to the injury against Minnesota. Though he participated in the team's first four training camp practices, he hadn't participated in any other practices since July 31. On August 14, 2012, Urlacher had an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his left knee, and has stated that his goal is to play in the 2012 season opener. He eventually practiced on September 3, and played against the Colts in the season opener, though he sat out the second half.
In 2012, Urlacher was awarded the Ed Block Courage Award, given to those who showed a commitment to sportsmanship and courage. During his award acceptance speech, Urlacher thanked the Bears for their support after his mother Lavoyda Lenard died. Against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9, Urlacher intercepted Matt Hasselbeck, and returned the pick 46 yards for a touchdown. Urlacher led the Bears in tackles until Week 13 against the Seahawks, in which he sustained a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Urlacher became an unrestricted free agent on March 12, 2013. On March 20, the Bears announced that Urlacher will not return in 2013 after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. Urlacher later belittled Phil Emery's contract negotiations with him as 'lip service', and stated the Bears had little intention to re-sign him. In 2015, Urlacher told ESPN that he still respected the Bears organization and front office, but has yet to speak to Emery, who was fired in 2014.
On May 22, 2013, Urlacher announced his retirement via his Twitter account. In 182 games in the NFL, Urlacher started all but two, the third most in franchise history behind Walter Payton (184) and Olin Kreutz (183), recording a team-record 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries, and 11 forced fumbles.
In 2002, Urlacher appeared on the game show Wheel of Fortune and won over $47,000 for charity.
Urlacher has appeared in several commercials for McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Comcast, Nike, Campbell's Chunky soup, Old Spice, and Glacéau. He also shared the spotlight with Peyton Manning in a MasterCard commercial at a spa. Nike also aired special commercials about Urlacher's high school career containing clips and commentary of plays he made. However, Urlacher later stated that he feels "uncomfortable" appearing in commercials. He was also the cover athlete and spokesperson for Sega Sports' NFL 2K3. During media day before Super Bowl XLI Urlacher wore a hat promoting Glacéau vitamin water, a non-NFL approved sponsor, for which he was fined US$100,000.
Urlacher wrestled in a pay-per-view event for the NWA-TNA promotion. The Bears organization discovered this and forced him to stop.
In 2012, with Nike taking over the NFL supplier from Reebok, Urlacher modeled for the new uniforms. In July 2013, Urlacher announced that he will be an analyst for Fox Sports 1 on Fox Football Daily with Jay Glazer and Curt Menefee; he had been courted by NFL Network but decided on Fox Sports. On September 16, 2014, Urlacher resigned from the role to spend more time with his family.
In December 2014, Urlacher participated in the USO Chairman's Holiday tour, which provided entertainment to US troops in five countries around the world.
Following his successful rookie season, Urlacher was able to gain popularity with the fans. On a national level, Urlacher's jersey sales have rivaled those of other NFL superstars, such as Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Football fans across the nation have also voted Urlacher into eight Pro Bowls. Urlacher's teammates and coaches have also praised his character and athletic ability. In 2007, former teammate Tank Johnson called upon Urlacher to testify during one of his court hearings.
Even after winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the 2005 season, a 2006 Sports Illustrated poll of 361 NFL players named Urlacher the second most overrated player in the league behind Terrell Owens. In response, Urlacher has stated "Just watch the film. I don’t know what people are saying, but I’m not too worried about it anymore. All I can do is go out there and play hard and try and help my team win, and that's what I’m going to keep doing."
Source, Retrieved on January 24, 2012
Urlacher has two daughters, Pam and Riley, with ex-wife Laurie Urlacher and a son, Kennedy, with Tyna Robertson. Urlacher currently lives with his daughters and has visitation rights with his son. His younger brother, Casey, had a brief career in the Arena Football League and was later elected mayor of Mettawa, Illinois in 2013.
In June 2005, Urlacher filed suit to establish paternity of his son Kennedy. Genetic testing determined that he is Kennedy's father. Kennedy's mother, Tyna Robertson, was already well-known to the media, having made claims of sexual assault against famed dancer Michael Flatley and a doctor from Naperville, Illinois. Urlacher and Robertson maintain joint-custody over Kennedy. In 2017, Urlacher appealed to a Cook County court to remove Kennedy from Robertson's custody after her husband, Ryan Karageorge, was shot and killed in their residence.
In 2011, Urlacher's mother Lavoyda Lenard Urlacher died of unreported causes, and Urlacher was granted his temporary leave from the team. However, Urlacher was able to return to the team in time for the season opener.
In April 2012, Urlacher began dating model and actress Jenny McCarthy. In August 2012, McCarthy announced that she and Urlacher had ended their relationship. Urlacher married Jennipher Frost, a former contestant on America's Next Top Model on March 13, 2016.
He also enjoys golfing in his spare time, and during an episode of Home Turf, Urlacher revealed a room in his mansion containing a plethora of golf paraphernalia. When home, Urlacher revealed that he also enjoys watching the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and HBO's Entourage. Urlacher enjoys listening to a wide variety of music, including hip hop, rock, and country music.
Urlacher has also been spokesperson for several companies. Sega Sports selected Urlacher to appear on the cover of NFL 2K3, while other companies, such as Nike, McDonald's, Old Spice, and Vitamin Water, have featured him in several television advertisements and promotions.
Urlacher is of Russian German descent. His great-grandfather, Lucas Urlacher, was born into a Black Sea German family in an area that today belongs to Ukraine.