CHICAGO — Asked about his favorite memory as a Chicago Bear, Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't take much time to answer.
"That 2006 team was pretty special," Urlacher said with a grin during his special guest appearance at Thursday morning's FanDuel SportsBook opening at Blue Chip Casino.
The Bears played in their second Super Bowl in franchise history that year, falling just short of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI. If there's any silver lining to that day, at least of the most memorable moments in recent history for Chicago fans came that night with Devin Hester returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Urlacher sees many similarities between that '06 Bears team and Matt Nagy's squad this year.
They have a formidable linebacking corps of Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan that can take over games in a hurry much like Urlacher and Lance Briggs did, anchoring an already top-tier defense that can turn the ball over with ease. They have electric playmakers on special teams and offense. They have a confident bravado that seeps into the core of every player.
But it all begins with that forceful defense.
"They had what, 36 takeaways last year?" Urlacher questioned. "If they can do anything remotely close to that this season, I think they'll be in very good shape."
Urlacher has been a part of many shutdown defenses, playing with talents like Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles 'Peanut' Tillman. But this 2019 defensive unit could very be better than any in recent history, according to No. 54.
"Sure, you have your Khalil Macks and Roquan Smiths," Urlacher said. "They're game-changers. But there's a lot of other really talented guys up front, too. You got Danny Trevathan, Akeem Hicks, Leonard Floyd. They can go, man."
Urlacher expects this year's team to be Super Bowl contenders much like his was in 2006, and the first reason for that is obvious: the defense. But what makes Nagy's team a touch better than Lovie Smith's was 13 years ago is a much more potent offense.
"Where they're better equipped is on the offensive side," Urlacher said. "Mainly, the creativeness coach Nagy has and the things they do. Getting prepared for them would be hard. They have good players, good schemes and they create good matchups. Like, they'll get Tarik (Cohen) in the open against a linebacker or D-lineman. You're not going to tackle him one-on-one. Nagy just puts his players in the best place to succeed. He's so smart, too. Every night, you'll see something new come out."
It's reasons like these why plenty of analysts around the league have quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a darkhorse MVP candidate this year. If he can continue to progress in a favorable offense such as Nagy's, a Super Bowl run is certainly not out of the question for the Bears.
The affable Urlacher made the first bet at the new site, putting his money on the Bears for Thursday's night's game with Green Bay before greeting guests and signing autographs for fans.
"It's nice to be welcomed back, to be around," said Urlacher, who attended the opener. "The coaches are awesome, the organization has been great to my family. When I come back to a game, they have open arms."