Kevin Mawae: Why I'd choose Urlacher over Ray Lewis
You're the coach of a pick-up football team, and your next choice is a middle linebacker. You have two options: Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher. Both were Defensive Players of the Year. Both were all-decade first-teamers, All-Pros and Pro Bowlers. And both are Pro Football Hall-of-Fame finalists in their first years of eligibility.
So who's it going to be?
"For me, it would be Urlacher," said former star center Kevin Mawae, also a Hall-0f-Fame finalist for the Class of 2018.
Wait a minute. What?
Lewis was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl champ, Super Bowl MVP and the slam-dunk favorite in this year's Hall-of-Fame class. Granted, Urlacher's resume is loaded, and, like Lewis, he might make it to Canton as a first-ballot choice. But most persons looking at middle linebackers in this milennium start the conversation with Lewis ... then move to Urlacher.
So that's going to need an explanation. And Mawae gave one.
"I played against both of the guys, and Ray was ... the guy belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt about it," he said. "But I've got to view it in the lens of how I played against guys ... not as if I was in the coach ... I've got to do it in how I played against them. To me, Ray was all over the place -- an athletic guy, but he was not a downhill hitter. He's not taking on offensive linemen. He was a jump-around guy.
"Brian Urlacher, sideline to sideline ... could do it all ... just like Ray. But he was more of a physical player in the box against offensive linemen, and that's just the way I view it. Half-one dozen, half the other. Both of them are going to get in. You know what I'm saying?"
We do. Both will get in. Maybe one this year; one next. Maybe both this year. But, yes, both are ticketed for Canton, with Lewis the presumptive first choice of all 15 modern-era candidates for this year's class. But Mawae made it clear that voters should not short-change Urlacher.
Because he doesn't.
"With Ray ... I mean, he was physical at the point of attack ... at the tackle ... and making the plays," said Mawae. "And both of the guys were equally smart in diagnosing and getting a defense lined up. But, from an offensive lineman's standpoint, Ray Lewis was not going to come down and hit you. He was going to try to make you miss -- a lot like Junior Seau. Seau didn't take on blocks. He kind of jumped around.
"Urlacher did all the stuff Ray did. But he played downhill on you. He's going to come in and put his helmet on you and shed blocks. I never felt that way about Ray. And whenever we played Ray, it was never like ... 'Oh, man I've gotta' ... I felt a bigger challenge for me was playing Zach Thomas than Ray Lewis. That's just a personal view.
"For me, the best linebacker I ever played against was Junior Seau because of his athleticism and because how smart he was. But he was a guy ... you prepared for a 10-man defense, and Junior played his own game. And that's what made him more difficult to play against because he just kind of did his deal, and everybody else covered up for him.
"Zach was a cerebral player, but he was limited in his ability to get around the field. But he was going to take on blocks. He was going to take on the 'A gap.' He was going to take on the 'B gap.' He wasn't afraid to hit you. Ray was an avoid guy who was trying to find the ball."