No. 5: Bears LB Brian Urlacher

Hall of Famer Larry Csonka going against Brian Urlacher? A classic battle. MATCHUP GALLERY ESPN.com Illustration


ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine sought a list of the 20 current players who a 20-member Pro Football Hall of Fame panel and ESPN's John Clayton believe could excel in any era of the NFL.

Or to put a finer point on it -- when Mike Ditka looks at today's player, whom does he want lining up next to him ... or across from him?

Which of today's players did our group of Hall of Famers deem really old-school?

The playing days for our 20-member Hall of Fame panel spanned the '60s (Jim Brown) to the turn of the century (John Randle).

We'll present four players a day, culminating with our top four on Friday, Jan. 27.

Use the #NFLAnyEra Twitter hashtag to get involved in the conversation or just follow along at @ESPN or on our Facebook page.


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JAMES LOFTON: Let's take Brian Urlacher back in time, say to 1961. You've got Mike Ditka playing one tight end and you have Brian Urlacher playing the other tight end. Who do you throw the ball to? You have two great tight ends. That's the thing when you watch Urlacher when he plays defense: He gets his hands on the ball a lot. He's very athletic. Urlacher, like players in different eras, could play different positions.


MIKE DITKA: I think he would have been playing outside linebacker with Dick Butkus, no question. We had a lot of great linebackers in Chicago -- Dick Butkus, Bill George, Mike Singletary. Brian Urlacher is a very athletic guy playing middle linebacker. He's got a nonstop motor. Brian Urlacher has stood the test of time. He'll go down as one of the best middle linebackers in history. He's very deserving of being on this team.


JIM BROWN:Brian Urlacher plays an intelligent game but is also very physical and very tough. He can apply his physicality with a mentality that fits into the game plan. His mental toughness is as good as it gets.


JOHN RANDLE: The big thing about Brian Urlacher is his longevity. He does it year after year, and when you think of the Chicago Bears, you think of Brian Urlacher. He's there week in, week out. To me, the best part of being a player and being a Hall of Famer is longevity.



Urlacher missed the 2009 season after suffering a fractured wrist in the first half of the season opener at Green Bay:

The toughest moment during my career was when I injured my wrist in 2009. You know, every player suffers injuries, it's football. But I'm sitting there at home watching the game and I'm thinking, 'Man, I wish I was out there right now with those guys,' but I couldn't. I was on IR, so I couldn't play. That was that. I kind of felt helpless at times. The team had to move on without me. That's football. I wanted to be out there running around with them, but there was nothing I could do about it.



Urlacher has followed in the great line of middle linebackers. A safety in college, Urlacher used his big body to be a factor in pass coverage and on running plays. Plus, he looks like an old-school type player. He's a faster Dick Butkus.

CLAYTON ON URLACHER'S HALL OF FAME CHANCES: Annually he's considered a Defensive MVP candidate and as one of the better defenders in his era, he has a decent chance of making the Hall of Fame.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN



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Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.