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Urlacher ferocious in understated way

WP: In a city known for LBs, Urlacher exhibits modicum of self-control
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has a game-day routine that does not vary: He gets up and watches a saltwater fishing show on cable television at 8 a.m. He watches another at 9 a.m. When he arrives at the stadium, he eats two cookies, preferably chocolate chip. (He will eat another variety if someone offers him something better.) Then, he slips on his headphones to relax a bit more.

Once the game begins, Urlacher unleashes the sort of controlled fury that Bears' linebacker greats have made famous, only his fury is, perhaps, heavier on the control. A six-time Pro Bowler, Urlacher brought greatness back to the linebacker position in Chicago, but without the blatant savagery.

"He'll curse you out in a minute, but it's leadership," Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman said. "He takes charge. He's like a coach playing."

It was difficult to find anything menacing about Urlacher during Super Bowl XLI media day Tuesday at Dolphin Stadium, where the Bears will face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Urlacher chuckled at questions. At an official's request, he immediately removed his "Vitamin Water" cap, revealing a closely shaved pate and receding hairline. When asked to shout out a promotional slogan for a local boys' camp by an overzealous camera crew that drew glares, Urlacher obliged, looking amused rather than annoyed. He smiled plenty.

Earlier this week, Bears Coach Lovie Smith described Urlacher as one of the best people he had ever met; the most talented player in the league; and one of the fittest players on the roster. He called him a coach on the field and a perfect teammate.

"When," Smith finally asked, "do you want me to stop?"

Franchise legend Dick Butkus once said the perfect tackle involved hitting someone so hard his head would fly off. Mike Singletary, the 1980s Bears great, used to glare across the line with wild, threatening eyes. Urlacher's ferocity seems more understated, a natural part of a fierce game. He says his style is partly a function of the times: Rules changes since the 1970s have changed the way defense is played.

"They got away with whatever they wanted back then," he said. "We get fined for looking at a guy the wrong way. You've got to be careful now. . . . It would be awesome if we could [still] do whatever we wanted to do to the quarterback, clothesline players, choke players. That was great."

Urlacher says he thrives now by processing everything around him: the down, the ball's placement, the time on the clock, the most likely offensive call. He describes himself as a "babysitter" for his defensive teammates, saying he's constantly yelling out the proper defensive reads. And that, players say, is where his speed comes in. He can get where he knows he needs to be fast.

"He's amazing," Bears offensive lineman Anthony Oakley said. "In practice, I'm on the [opposing team] offense, and every time we line up, he calls the play before we run the play. He's smart. He watches film. The guy is fast."

As a young player, Urlacher admits he didn't know much about Butkus, nor did he care. He played safety at a small high school in Lovington, N.M., and idolized former Dallas Cowboy Darren Woodson. Failing to win a scholarship to his choice school, Texas Tech, Urlacher settled on the University of New Mexico and played, among other positions, wide receiver.

But while he was wowing scouts all over the field, he was bulking up. After being drafted in the first round by the Bears in 2000, he took over the starting middle linebacker position after Barry Minter went down with an injury. He made 42 tackles in his first three starts. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and became rookie of the year.

Chicago fans immediately embraced the young star, who could seem to do no wrong on the field. Off the field, however, he occasionally found his way into the celebrity gossip columns. After a divorce from his first wife, Urlacher briefly dated Paris Hilton. For the past two years, news outlets followed a bitter custody dispute over a child Urlacher fathered with a former stripper. But Urlacher says he is not a partying guy. He claims to have been to South Beach only once or twice, dragged along by fellow players.

"It's a business trip for us," he said. "We had to wear our suits on the plane on the way down. It's a business trip, number one. Just practice, concentrate in practice, and when I get back to my room, hang out like I do back in Chicago."

Last season, Urlacher was named defensive player of the year and Smith says he has been even better this season. Smith, who doesn't curse and rarely raises his voice, has seemed peeved about one thing: questions over Urlacher's failure to collect quarterback sacks. He hasn't had a sack since October 2005 -- a 29-game span.

Smith and Urlacher say the linebacker's job is to drop back in coverage. He rarely gets the chance to slip into the backfield in passing situations.

"We don't blitz Brian a lot," Smith said. "Everything we have asked him to do, he has done it well. He's gone beyond the call of duty, really. I can talk about Urlacher for a long time.

"I think he is the best player in football."