Former Lobo great and NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher will accept an honor that no other New Mexico football player has received.
He will officially have his number, 44, retired by UNM.
The announcement came Tuesday after the University had initially decided to retire Urlacher’s jersey and not his number. The difference between retiring a jersey and a number is that when a school retires a jersey, it can still issue the number or the number can be reissued.
UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said the University decided to make an exception for Urlacher because of the contributions he made during his Lobo career from 1996-99 and his 13-year NFL career.
“The intention all along was to do something significant in honor of Brian,” Krebs said. “When we reflected on it further, his accomplishments here — he’s synonymous with New Mexico football and the legacy he’s left in the NFL — upon further review we decided it was best to permanently retire the number.”
At UNM, Urlacher had a school-record 178 tackles in 1998, which also led the nation. He was 1999’s Mountain West Player of the Year with 154 tackles.
Krebs said UNM’s current head coach Bob Davie was the one who initially asked if the school was going to retire Urlacher’s jersey.
“I think when the dust settles, how many guys are going to come along like Brian Urlacher that have made the impact on a program that Brian Urlacher has made?” Davie said.
Urlacher retired over the summer after being unable to negotiate a contract with the Chicago Bears and being unable to find any offers from other teams. The Bears were the only franchise Urlacher played for in his 13-year career as middle linebacker.
During his time with the Bears, Urlacher was an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All Pro selection. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He was voted to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and he holds the Bears’ career tackle record.
“I decided I didn’t want to play for anybody else,” Urlacher said on the Dan Patrick Show in May. “I still have a ton of respect for the Bears. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but I played 13 years for one of the best franchises in NFL history. I’m very proud of that, and I’m happy I won’t have to wear another jersey.”
According to men’s soccer 2013 online media guide, the only other number to be retired in the history of UNM athletics is men’s soccer player David Robertson’s No. 8. Robertson is UNM’s all-time leading scorer and played at UNM from 1984-86.
The Lobos have three jerseys retired in football in Mike Williams (40), Bobby Santiago (42) and Don Perkins (43). Toby Roybal (44) is the only jersey retired in men’s basketball, according to golobos.com. When the UNM football team hosts Air Force on Nov. 8, the team will honor all four Lobo Legends by showcasing their jerseys at University Stadium.
“When we originally crafted out policy, we were trying to craft a policy that is respectful to all of our sports,” Krebs said. “We are identifying all these players as Lobo Legends. There will be some branding that will appear in all of our facilities. It’s to honor individuals that have done some major things.”
Other college football programs retire jerseys but keep the numbers in circulation for the team.
UNM’s current junior defensive end Brett Bowers wears No. 44 and will have to change his number.