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NFL commentary: Urlacher’s presence looms large over camp

BOURBONNAIS – Dozens of crisp No. 54 jerseys with “URLACHER” stitched across the back greet fans in the Bears’ gift shop at Olivet Nazarene University.

Blue jerseys. White jerseys. Orange jerseys.

Heck, if you wanted a purple Urlacher jersey, the Bears probably could customize one.

After 13 unforgettable seasons as a Monster of the Midway, Urlacher now represents a Colossus of Cash. A Rhinoceros of Retail. A Symbol of Spending.

Everywhere you look is No. 54. Well, everywhere except the practice field.

Let’s start with the gift shop.

Bears fan Karl Kics of Shorewood wore a white No. 54 Urlacher jersey as he sorted through other No. 54 jerseys on the rack.

This confused me. If Kics was wearing an Urlacher jersey, why shop for the same jersey?

“I’m just stocking up right now,” said Kics, who figured the items eventually would vanish from shelves. “I can put it right next to my [Walter] Payton jerseys and everything else.”

Be warned. Those keepsakes might be costly.

Want a baby No. 54 jersey? That will be $40.

Want a big-kid No. 54 jersey? The sticker price is $300, but it’s on sale at 40 percent off.

Typically, I wouldn’t be standing in a gift shop and jotting down notes about No. 54 jerseys. Instead, I would be standing on the sideline and jotting down notes about the actual No. 54.

But for the first time this century, Urlacher is nowhere to be seen at Bears camp. He is not cracking jokes during pre-practice stretching, making Lance Briggs double over in laughter. He is not shouting out defensive play calls in team drills, making teammates shuffle position.

It’s impossible not to notice his absence.

“It’s kind of weird,” said John Henrichs, a 12-year-old Bears fan from downstate Danforth who wore his blue No. 54 jersey, “because he has been around for a long time.”

Make that a lifetime.

The Bears drafted Urlacher in April 2000. Henrichs was born 4 months later.

Was Henrichs mad when the Bears didn’t re-sign Urlacher?

“A little.”

Is he still mad?

“I’m used to it.”

That makes one of us.

On the path from the gift shop to the practice field, other reminders of Urlacher exist.

An Era Sports memorabilia stand features one item in particular that caught my eye. It’s a framed photo of Urlacher lined up across from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Snow is falling. Roethlisberger is barking the cadence. Urlacher is crouched.

Something incredibly exciting is about to happen.

Oh, and both players signed the picture. It can be yours for the low price of $594.99.

Era Sports’ Tim Belcher said he expected Urlacher memorabilia to remain in high demand.

“Everyone loves Urlacher,” Belcher said. “Especially the women.”

Maybe 60 seconds later, I was able to confirm Belcher’s theory.

“Why do I wear his jersey? Because I love him,” said Melisa Arellano, who wore her Urlacher jersey on the trip down from Streamwood. “He was a great player. He was a team leader. He was able to direct the players. He did a really good job at that.”

Yes, he did.

Now, it’s D.J. Williams’ turn to play middle linebacker. At least, it was Williams’ turn until Wednesday, when his bum calf relegated him to the sidelines on a “week-to-week” basis.

In steps rookie Jon Bostic. If he gets hurt, it could be Blake Costanzo’s turn.

Regardless, Urlacher is gone. Fans seem to understand.

“I think we all have our time,” said Matt Barnard, who wore his No. 54 jersey as he drove to training camp from Hudson. “And I think he had his time.”

At least we always will have his jerseys.

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