He left only after etching a career that would make him the first Lobo to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Urlacher, who played at UNM from 1996-99, was one of a number of big names who entered the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night at the National Football Foundation’s awards banquet in Manhattan. During an early-day news conference, each of the inductees got a chance to tell part of their story to ESPN”s Holly Rowe, who MC’d the event. She remembered covering the Western Athletic Conference in the late 1990s and being impressed by Urlacher as “the best defensive college football player I had ever seen up to that time.”
But as Lobo football fans know, he was so much more, or at least as much as he was allowed to do — safety, linebacker, return specialist, even receiver.
Urlacher thanked Rocky Long, whose first two years as UNM coach were Urlacher’s last two as a player. Dennis Franchione recruited him and coached him briefly before leaving to take over at TCU.
Long “let me do everything,” Urlacher said Tuesday. “Plus we didn’t have a lot of guys who could return kicks. So I was the guy that got stuck back there doing that. … The opportunities were great when I got there.”
The rest of the players in Hall of Fame class included Peyton Manning of Tennessee, Marshall Faulk of San Diego State; 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart of Southern California; Bob Crable of Notre Dame; Kirk Gibson, baseball’s National League MVP in 1988 and former Michigan State receiver; Bob McKay of Texas; Dat Nguyen of Texas A&M; Mike Ruth of Boston College; and Adrian Peterson of Georgia Southern.
Peterson’s college career ended in 2001, a few years before that other Adrian Peterson became a star at Oklahoma and went on to a brilliant career in the NFL. This Peterson still holds the Division I career rushing record with 6,559 yards.
Urlacher went on to a spectacular 13-year NFL career, all as a middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears. One of his teammates in Chicago was Peterson, whom he called “the real Adrian Peterson” Tuesday.
The other coaches inducted into the Hall of Fame were Steve Spurrier, who won a Heisman Trophy at Florida and became the fourth person to be inducted into the hall both as a player and coach; Larry Kehres, who led Division III Mount Union to 11 national titles and a .930 winning percentage in 27 seasons, and Danny Ford, who coached Clemson to its first national championship in 1981 at the age of 33.
Last month, Urlacher was named one of 27 semifinalists for the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. That list goes to 15 finalists in January before voting takes place on Feb. 3 on the eve of Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.