Printed November 11, 2013

Fans rose to their feet as soon as the video montage started. They roared when he appeared on the video screen next to a red cloth covering his framed No. 44 jersey.

It may just be a number, but to New Mexico football fans that number represents one of the most well-known players in the history of the team: Brian Urlacher, a name synonymous with the University.

Now Urlacher’s 44 will be memorialized. His number was officially retired by UNM during a halftime ceremony in the Lobos’ 45-37 win over Air Force on Friday night. He became the first Lobo football player to have his number formally retired by UNM.

“As far as football memories, post-career memories? It’s awesome,” Urlacher said. “This is one of the best things I’ve done since I retired, which wasn’t very long ago, but it’s really cool to have this done. It was a big honor for me.”

Three other UNM football players — Mike Williams (40), Bobby Santiago (42) and Don Perkins (43) — have had their jerseys retired, but not their numbers.

UNM broke its own policy of not retiring numbers, and for good reason. Urlacher’s Lobo career, which spanned from 1996-99, was the foundation for a 13-year career as middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

Urlacher was a defensive and offensive force during his time at UNM as he led the team and the nation in tackles in 1998 with 178. He also grabbed 13 receiving touchdowns with the Lobos and headed the team with seven in 1999.

This past summer, Urlacher retired from the NFL after what many consider a Hall of Fame career. He was the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was named a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

The hardest part of retirement for Urlacher has been trying to keep himself occupied, he said. Urlacher is now a TV analyst for Fox Sports 1 and is part of Fox Football Daily.

“I’ve got a lot of free time now, which is OK,” he said. “More golf, more fishing, more family time. I don’t miss the game — I’ve said that this whole time. I don’t miss the football game, I just miss my teammates.”

After he landed in Albuquerque on Friday, Urlacher made the rounds at UNM. He talked to the men’s basketball team prior to its practice on Friday, then he spoke to the football team before it defeated AF.

“You can tell he’s a leader, first off,” senior running back Kasey Carrier said. “I thought we were the Chicago Bears, actually. He got pretty intense and he’s a big dude too. Just to get the chance to talk to him was incredible.”

Only 21,833 fans showed up to see the Lobo Legend in person, but there were many supporters wearing Urlacher’s No. 44 jersey, or his No. 54 from his time at Chicago.

It was the first game Urlacher has attended at UNM since 2006. He watched the action from the Endzone Club located at the top of the Tow Diehm Facility.

“I wish I could sit closer to the field so I could watch the game and hear the noises,” he said. “It’s fun. Football’s football. I don’t care what level it is, it’s all football. Any time you get a chance to be around it, it’s fun for me.”