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Brian Urlacher feels the love in New Mexico

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:54AM



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The highlight reel sparkled off the scoreboard in the clear, pitch-black night.

Red sheets pulled away to reveal a framed No. 44 jersey and a name added to the University Stadium tower 80 feet above the ground.

While students passed red tissue paper up metal bleacher rows, crafting a crinkly ‘‘44,’’ Brian Urlacher stood on the field surrounded by a dozen family members.

His kids were there, the first time they’ve seen where their dad used to play.

Former New Mexico teammates stood on the sideline. Old friends from Lovington, N.M., were in the crowd, which, at 21,833 strong, was twice as big as Urlacher’s hometown.

‘‘It makes you feel good,’’ he said.

At some point, it hit Urlacher: This was the first football game he had attended since retiring in May after 13 seasons with the Bears.

‘‘I wish I could sit closer to the field, so I could watch the game and hear the noises,’’ Urlacher said, looking up toward the
swanky End Zone Club, his home for the night.

The 35-year-old, who had his number retired by New Mexico on Friday, doesn’t pine for the game in his first year away since he was a boy.

‘‘I don’t miss the football,’’ he said. ‘‘I just miss my teammates.’’

Those Bears teammates might call in search of an extra linebacker, someone joked.

‘‘It wouldn’t matter,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m done. I’m happy to be done.’’

◆◆◆

Urlacher, the Bears’ all-time leading tackler, now works three days a week as a host of ‘‘Fox Football Daily’’ on the fledgling network Fox Sports 1.

He has gained attention for his comments — in September, he said the Bears were coached to fake injuries — but doesn’t consider himself to be a broadcaster.

‘‘I just talk on TV; that’s all I do,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s fun. We’ve got a good panel on our show. It’s just a bunch of guys talking about football for an hour a day. I enjoy it.’’

Urlacher spends two nights a week in Los Angeles, where he shoots three shows, then flies back to Chicago or to his winter home in the Phoenix area. As Chicago grows colder, he has chosen the latter more often. He took golf lessons after retiring.

Urlacher’s name soon might land on a restaurant near his old campus.

‘‘I’m just trying to find something to do with my time,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve got a lot of free time now, which is OK. More golf, more fishing, more family time.’’

◆◆◆

The fire doesn’t go out so quickly.

New Mexico coach Bob Davie texted Urlacher this week to see how he could make the ceremony — at halftime against Air Force — easier on him.

‘‘Coach,’’ Urlacher texted back, ‘‘you can do one thing: You can whup their [rear ends].’’

Davie posted the message on a PowerPoint presentation at the team hotel Friday. Urlacher, who flew in on a private jet to attend his first Lobos game in seven years, met the team at the field.

Not one to give speeches with the Bears, he gathered the players in the locker room — where New Mexico enclosed his locker in glass with his jersey inside — and reiterated his request.

‘‘He wanted us to win really bad,’’ said defensive end Brett Bowers, who changed his number from Urlacher’s 44 to 48 on Friday. ‘‘He’s obviously a pretty big star, especially in New Mexico, so it was pretty cool to have him in our presence.’’

Tailback Kasey Carrier said Urlacher ‘‘got pretty intense’’ in the locker room.

‘‘He’s a big dude, too,’’ Carrier said after the Lobos’ 45-37 victory.

With a glint in his eye, Davie said he knew speaking to the players was a big deal to Urlacher.

‘‘He doesn’t need to say much; that’s what I like about him,’’ Davie said. ‘‘He doesn’t need a bunch of fanfare. He wanted to hunker down and watch a football game.’’

Asked if he had any unexpected feelings during the ceremony, Urlacher kept his emotions far from view.

‘‘No, I didn’t think there was,’’ he said flatly. ‘‘Did it look like there was?’’

◆◆◆

Urlacher is a Bears legend, but he’s one of many. He’s the greatest New Mexico player ever.

Playing the ‘‘Lobo’’ hybrid safety spot, he was a first-team All-American in 1999. Better yet, he was a homegrown hero, recruited out of Lovington High School by only the Lobos and lowly New Mexico State.

‘‘It’s a big day,’’ Urlacher said. ‘‘A lot of people from my hometown came up to watch
this. . . .

‘‘Most of these people are from New Mexico. It makes you feel good that people appreciate what you did.’’

Navy blue No. 54 jerseys outnumbered all other Urlacher apparel in the metal bleachers, though. Even a loudspeaker announcement conceded the Bears were Albuquerque’s
favorite team.

Pete Cialkowski donned the same No. 54 jersey he wears to ski.

‘‘I don’t think the Bears treated him fairly,’’ said Cialkowski, a Chicago native who, with wife Caryn, lived in Albuquerque during Urlacher’s college career and since has moved to the Chicago area and back to New Mexico. ‘‘They could have handled it differently and had the whole thing end with class.’’

Anthony and Lola Iacullo, wearing matching Bears jackets a few sections over, settled in New Mexico after retirement. He’s from Chicago, and she’s from Albuquerque. They share Urlacher.

‘‘We all have got to retire sometime,’’ he said.

One day soon, when the wounds of Urlacher’s departure don’t sting so much, the Bears will honor him. Until then, Friday stands as ‘‘one of the best things I’ve done since I’ve retired,’’ Urlacher said.

‘‘It’s really cool to have this done,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a big honor
for me.’’

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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