|NEW YORK -- From an early season benching to top rookie is
an improbable climb. Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears did it and
was selected The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Urlacher, the ninth overall pick from New Mexico in last April's
draft, easily won the award in balloting by a nationwide panel of
50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover pro football. The
middle linebacker, who received 27½ votes, didn't expect it to
happen, particularly after his NFL career got off to a rough start
when he was tried on the outside.
"You only get a chance to win rookie of the year once ... It
means a lot," Urlacher said. "I didn't know what to expect coming
into this year, then I started out so bad with training camp, and
it was frustrating. But they saw something and moved me to middle
"I think I got better and better as the season went on."
He clearly did, finishing with team-leading totals of 125
tackles, 99 solo, and eight sacks for the underachieving Bears
(5-11). He also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
From sideline to sideline, Urlacher was as active as such
All-Pros as Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks. He also was strong as a
pass defender, a skill he owes greatly to also playing safety in
"It's amazing, I'm so happy," said Urlacher, who joined tackle
Wally Chambers (1973) and safety Mark Carrier (1990) as Bears
players who won the award. "I was sure I wouldn't get it because
we didn't have a very good record. I guess not. I guess I played
Urlacher's most memorable game probably came at Buffalo, where
he was in on 16 tackles. It was then that comparisons to Dick
Butkus and Mike Singletary began surfacing.
Such comparisons might be premature, but Urlacher likes the idea
that he is grouped with such diligent players.
"I've been brought up that if you want to get something, you're
going to have to work for it," said Urlacher, who became a father
Dec. 13. "There's no other way to get it. No one's going to give
you anything. That's just the way I live my life."
His work impressed the opposition all season.
"You can start writing his name on your ballot and no one will
ask for a recount," Al Groh, the departed New York Jets coach,
said. "He will be one of the more exciting players in the league
for a long time."
Urlacher was one of four players to get votes. New Orleans end
Darren Howard was next with 15½, followed by Philadelphia tackle
Corey Simon with six and Cleveland end Courtney Brown -- the top
overall pick in the 2000 draft -- with one.
Last year's winner was Jevon Kearse of Tennessee.
|Brian Urlacher led the Bears in sacks and tackles during his rookie season.|