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pakowitz 04-17-2003 07:58 PM

Baby Bear

Casey Urlacher, younger brother of Brian, is enjoying the stressful days leading up to the draft

By Trent Modglin
April 17, 2003

Casey Urlacher

Casey Urlacher’s life is a busy one these days. But he’s never too busy for his niece Pamela, the adorable 2 ½-year-old daughter of his brother, Brian. Last Sunday, in the foyer of Brian’s house in north suburban Chicago, a house Casey also calls home, the brothers Urlacher played catch with a giggling Pamela.

The night before, Casey was meeting with a teacher of his from Lake Forest (Ill.) College about an internship and an independent studies course he’s taking for his final three credit hours.

A couple of hours earlier, on Sunday morning, he was working out for the Bears with 37 other Chicago-area college players, running drills for both fullbacks and linebackers, either one of which he’d be happy to play in the NFL.

In a few more hours, he’d be going out on the town in Chicago with friends. The next morning, he would get fitted for his cap and gown for his May graduation before boarding a flight back to Atlanta, his home since mid-December, where his internship and workout routine awaited.

His life currently has all the structure of a teenager’s bedroom, but it’s not like he’d have it any other way. Things are good right now for Brian’s little brother. And they’re about to get a whole lot better.

Casey has been told he could be anywhere between a fourth- and a seventh-round pick in the NFL draft April 26-27. He figures he could go in the sixth or seventh. Or possibly be an undrafted free agent, which could mean more money and a better opportunity to pick his future home.

But until then, the Division III All-American has headed back to Atlanta, where he has dedicated himself to months of drills and weightlifting and sweat at Competitive Edge Sports under the guidance of Chip Smith, who regularly trains dozens of NFL players and hundreds of athletes. Casey is there from 9 a.m. to noon every day and then heads to his finance and marketing internship at the Atlanta Athletic Club from 1 to 5 in the afternoon.

He was able to fly home for Christmas and New Year’s, and in between that, he was in Hawaii to play in the Hula Bowl and watch Brian at the Pro Bowl, his brother’s third appearance in that game in three years. But other than that, it’s been work, work, work in Altanta.

Stopping to think about it, it’s remarkable how much the two look alike. Brian’s got a few inches on him and several pounds on a broader frame, but on the street, double takes are a common occurrence. The night before, Casey was having dinner with a friend and was asked for his autograph four times — three times by kids and once by an older man. And it wasn’t because they were season-ticket holders at Lake Forest.

Brian and Casey were once so competitive as kids that they couldn’t play baseball on the same team. They wanted no part of it.

Playing on different teams had its tense moments too, though. Brian didn’t like it much when his little brother hit a double off him, so the next time up, he did what all big brothers would do. That’s right, he plunked him.

"I didn’t charge the mound or anything," Casey said. "We won the game, so it turned out for the better. But he did hit me. I think it was a double I hit before that. He says I didn’t, but I believe I did."

Lovington (N.M.) High School captured the state title with Brian as a senior safety and Casey a sophomore defensive end. The competitive spirit would eventually cool after Brian went off to college at New Mexico. That’s when Casey began to miss his brother. Casey enrolled at New Mexico Military Institute, where he played football for two years, but would eventually grow tired of the way he spent his days and quit to start working full time.

He worked for an electric company, climbing poles for nearly a year. "I was just living and doing what I wanted to do," Casey said. "It wasn’t a big deal to me."

But then Brian called and said that when he got drafted, he wanted Casey to be right there at his side, living his new life with him, wherever it may be.

"When he called and said, ‘I want you to go back to college and play football again,’ I mean, who’s going to turn that down?" Casey said. "Nobody is going to say no to that."

The Lake Forest kicker heard on the radio that Brian was looking for a place for his younger brother to go to school and play football. So the kicker went to his coach’s house, interrupting him as he mowed the lawn, to tell him the situation. The rest, as they say, is history.

But could there be a future for Casey in Chicago?

"I think it’d be great for me and my brother," Casey said of the thought.

But what if he was playing fullback, scratching and clawing to make the team, make the next cut, make it till tomorrow, and he had to break the huddle, only to eye the man he had to block, his brother, the Bears’ beast of a middle linebacker.

"I know," Casey says, stopping my thought short with a knowing smile. "We’ve never played against each other like that. It’d be funny. It’d be different."

It’s only April, but one can almost imagine the buzz in the crowd at the Bears’ training camp.

Bears DE Phillip Daniels and DT Bryan Robinson both work out with Casey in Atlanta. They tell him it’s a done deal.

"They tell me all the time, ‘Yup, you’re going to Chicago ’cause the Bears gotta sell tickets this year,’ he says, laughing. " ‘It’s a P.R. move for ’em,’ they say. I just tell ’em to shut up."

The Patriots came to watch his workout at Northwestern in March and told him if they don’t draft him, they’d want him to come to camp — as a fullback, a position he manned at times at Lake Forest.

He also expects to hear something from the Bears, who have talked to him about playing weak-side linebacker. The idea of a P.R. move to sell extra tickets was probably never brought up.

His agent has talked to the Raiders and Packers too. He rolls his eyes and smiles when he mentions the Packers. "The Packers … ugh."

And you thought it would be weird for Casey to try to block Brian in a Bears practice? Think about Casey donning the hated green and gold.

He’s trying to prepare as if anything could happen, because he knows anything can. One minute he could be playing with Pamela in his brother’s basement. The next minute, he could be on his way across country, to some team he never talked with, with no familiar faces, to start the fight for his NFL life.

"But that’s part of the game, and this is the profession I want to be a part of right now, so I’ll deal with it," he said. "But it is stressful to think about because I could end up anywhere. Who knows?

"The one thing I’m really fortunate for is that Brian has been in the league for a while now, and I’ve been around all this. Scouts at the Hula Bowl told me, ‘You’re way more relaxed around us than the other players.’ I’m not being conceited about that, it’s just that I’ve been around the bigger names, and I mean, it doesn’t get much bigger than Brian."

It’s assumed that the Urlacher household is one in which football talk dominates the day. Especially with the draft on the horizon and Casey’s workouts and the compliments that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had for him.

But, as assumptions typically go, it couldn’t be further from the truth. "Football really never comes up around here," Casey said. Unless the brothers are making fun of each other’s shortcomings in their respective games. "But that’s kind of it."

So not a lot of football talk. But what about a draft party, complete with friends, family, his agent, some chips and dip? One of those has got to be in the works, doesn’t it?

"I can’t say I’m gonna have a draft party because what if you have a draft party and don’t get drafted?" he asked, laughing, realizing it’s not a bad thing in this business to expect the unexpected. "I’ll get a chance to play. It’s what I do with it when I get it that counts."

Part of him wants to get out from under his brother’s enormous shadow and make a name for himself, but another, probably larger part of him would like nothing more than to get a shot in Brian’s backyard, which for the last three years has also been his backyard.

But if things don’t work out, and his NFL career doesn’t pan out, and kids still recognize him in restaurants because he looks like his brother, he’ll be fine with it.

"I live through my brother," Casey said. "I love watching him play every Sunday."

With that, Brian and his little girl walked back inside from a walk around the neighborhood. Brian’s wife, Laurie, called and said she was bringing dinner home.

On this Sunday, with the Masters tournament winding to a close on the TV in the living room and with Casey surrounded by his family, the game of football and his future could wait. Pamela was looking up at him with her big, bright eyes, asking him to play.

In a few weeks, Casey’s life will change with one simple phone call. He will spend the summer toiling through the summer heat alongside other players with the same dream. But phone calls and shoulder pads and new apartments weren’t on his mind now, because young Pamela wanted him to chase the dog. The dog doesn’t like it, but Pamela does.

Soon enough, he knows he’ll get his chance to play for real. And he knows that what he does with that chance when he gets it is what counts.

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