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Brian Urlacher

All Star Vinyl
by yo go re

For years, the premiere name in sports toys was Starting Lineup. The line was produced by Kenner, and ran from 1988-2001, before eventually being eclipsed by McFarlane Toys' SportsPicks. Also in 1988, a small Anaheim trading card store called The Upper Deck decided to expand their business and, in a bit of serendipity involving a wrong turn while trying to find Chinese food, landed the license to produce baseball cards, making Upper Deck a household name.

In 2006, Upper Deck decided to enter the toy market, but wisely opted not to compete with McFarlane' laser-scanned realism (yes, that's McToys' dirty little secret: the company that made its bones on the basis of its skilled sculptors has been using RealScan technology for years). Instead, they went the other way, creating cartoony figures in the "urban vinyl" style, starting with Lebron James and swiftly branching out into other stars and other sports, including the NFL and, eventually, Brian Urlacher.

Current Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is a beast. His 527 tackles in his first three NFL seasons was the most ever for a Bears player during such as span. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Urlacher has gone on to be a six-time Pro Bowler and an an iconic figure for the Chicago Bears, smashing records of Bears greats Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. In 2005, Urlacher was awarded the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award while leading the Bears to the play-offs.

Urlacher has become famous as the best defensive player on a team known for its tough defense, meaning he really is an insurmountable force. He's basically the face of the Bears, and although he's been called overrated, there's just no arguing the facts: the Bears are a better team when he's on the field, and no offensive line is impenatrable - just ask any quarterback who's spent more time on his back than in the red zone. This year's not looking too good, since he dislocated his wrist in the first game (hey: screw you, Green Bay!), but considering he became such a dominant force despite playing injured most seasons in the past, even losing a hand won't matter for too long. Go Bears!

The figure was designed by an artist named Jeremy Madl - at least, he did the drawing the sculptor worked from. The first NFL figures in the All Star Vinyl line were designed by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, but sadly, that didn't continue. The pose is rather staid, here, just Urlacher standing straight up and apparently cracking his knuckles, but considering that the only figure that did get an extreme pose - Reggie Bush - doesn't look so hot, that may be a good thing. The important thing is that he looks intimidating, and that he does.

The helmet is removable, and the inside has real foam pads to help cushion the head. The facial likeness isn't terrific, sadly; Brian Urlacher is, of course, bald, and with no distinct hair and no facial hair to easily caricature, it would take a really skilled artist to create a suitable pseudo-animated portrait. Nothing against Madl, I'm sure he's a good artist, he's just not that good. Cheeks probably would have had some trouble with this one, too.

Upper Deck's All Star Vinyl figures are, as the name suggests, large vinyl rotocast figures. We've discussed before the way rotocast figures are made, so you'll already know that this is a big hollow piece, thus it's not too heavy, despite standing nearly a full 12" tall. It's assembled from multiple pieces, but the only articulation is found at the waist and biceps - all three points are swivels.

The paint apps are good, from the large items (the 54s, the C logo on the helmet) to the small ones (the details in the "NFL Equipment" badges on the jersey and gloves). He even has some brushed-on grass stains on his legs, though the socks are pristine white. There are four versions of Urlacher available: home and away uniforms, a retro uniform, and a "limited edition" black and gold paint scheme. This one, with the white jersey and blue pants, is obviously the road game rendition, and was apparently limited to just 500 pieces.

Despite being so limited, Brian (and all his All Star Vinyl friends) are showing up at bargain basement closeout stores at a pretty healthy discount. Apparently Upper Deck severely over-estimated the intersection of "people who collect vinyl toys" and "people who enjoy sports" - or, if you want to turn this into a three-set Venn diagram, "people who collect vinyl toys", "people who enjoy sports" and "people who would pay over $50 for one of these things." I may be in the union of A and B, but not in ABC, and really, I feel bad for anyone who bought these at full price. I like my Urlacher, and I may even get some of the other uniforms, but Upper Deck really missed the mark on finding an audience for the All Star Vinyl line.

-- 09/20/09


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