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Super Bowl XLI: Urlacher is Super Bowl's small-town star

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 31 2007 12:07 a.m. MST

MIAMI — Brian Urlacher was so at ease he slept on the flight to the Super Bowl. And when Sunday arrives, he'll make sure he tunes into his favorite morning fishing show on TV.

Just to sort of chill.

Once he hits the locker room to get ready for the biggest game of his life, Urlacher will eat a couple of cookies — preferably chocolate chip. He'll cap his pregame routine by listening to some music.

Then at gametime, with millions watching, he'll step onto the finely manicured grass at Dolphin Stadium and stare across the line at one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks, Peyton Manning.

Both will be making hand signals, pointing and instructing their teammates where to go on every play. It'll be a showdown between the two marquee players — the two central characters — of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.

"Brian Urlacher is a guy I will always know where he is. You just can't help it," Manning said of the Bears' six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker. "There are certain guys like that."

Urlacher, who was hurt in 2004 when the Colts beat the Bears 41-10 behind Manning's four TD passes, said the Bears will have to be ready for Manning's line of scrimmage antics and deal accordingly.

"You are not going to fool Peyton Manning. He knows where to go with the football before it's even snapped," Urlacher said.

Urlacher has come far just to reach the point where he can defend and match wits with Manning as the Bears go for their second Super Bowl win in 21 years.

Urlacher grew up in the small New Mexico town of Lovington, population around 9,000, and worked summer jobs in oil pipeline construction, toiling for 12-hour shifts in 100-degree heat for $7 an hour.

He went off to college at New Mexico when he got few other recruiting feelers. There, his speed, strength, versatility and athletic ability turned him into a star.

"I was just happy to make it to college," he said.

As a safety and linebacker while also playing wide receiver and returning kicks for the Lobos, he was taken by the Bears in the first round of the 2000 draft.

Urlacher's small-town roots served him well.

"That was the No. 1 thing, the work ethic, I think," Urlacher said.

"We played sports. We played street football and played basketball, ran track, played baseball, all that good stuff."

It was really good during his senior year, when Urlacher led his prep team to a 14-0 record and a state title, catching 61 passes.

At his first training camp with the Bears in the bucolic college town of Platteville, Wis., a fresh-faced Urlacher was just happy to learn there was a Wal Mart where he could do his shopping.

Now his No. 54 jersey is one of the most popular in the NFL, he's done commercials, signed a nine-year contract worth more than $50 million in 2003 and even dated socialite Paris Hilton.

Always compared to past Bears greats at the same position — Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary — Urlacher's reputation as a game-changer has grown. It was never more evident than in a Monday night game this season. The Bears overcame a 20-point deficit to beat Arizona 24-23 as he forced a key fumble and finished with 25 tackles.

"He's a special player," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said.

Clark could be on a collision course Sunday with Urlacher, who often runs down the field to cover receivers or make tackles after they catch the ball.

"You have him in mind, but you can't be looking for him when you're running your routes, swiveling your head," Clark said. "You got to catch the ball. And then you got make sure once you catch it, you secure it because these guys come fast."

Urlacher's play often makes his teammates better. Fellow linebacker Lance Briggs has emerged as a star playing beside Urlacher. It's the kind of shadow he enjoys.

"He'll get on you. For one, he knows what everybody on defense is supposed to be doing, so if anybody makes a mistake he's going to get on you fast and that's what a leader has to do," Briggs said.

But that's OK because Urlacher plays like a star, but doesn't act like one.

"Maybe if I played in the shadows of a guy who's a jerk it might be different," Briggs said. "But I love playing next to Brian."

Three years ago, coach Lovie Smith set in place a system that relies on defense — and the centerpiece is Urlacher.

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