It occurred to me this morning out of nowhere that I am most definitely the elder statesman of the Bears’ mainstream media. On any given day, a glance around the press room reveals a ton of talent, almost all of it better than me and barely more than half my age, if that.
That epiphany came to me on the occasion of the media conference call with Pat Mannelly during which he discussed his decision to retire and end a career that made him the longest tenured player in the history of the National Football League’s most storied franchise.
My status in chronicling Mannelly’s place in Bears history is relevant only in the context that in the 35 years that I have now logged on the Bears beat, I can’t think of a single player who was better at his job, more accepted or well-liked in the locker room, more professional, any classier or more appropriate in his dealings with the media and fans or a more pleasant and easy guy to be around and to visit with.
Let’s take care of the stats first.
Mannelly’s 16 seasons as a Bear, spanning three decades and 245 games played, are both all–time Bears records. He appeared in all 16 games in 12 of his 16 seasons, played in at least 14 games in all but one season and missed just 11 games over his entire career.
Mannelly attempted 2,282 long snaps without ever missing a punter or holder and also notched 81 special teams tackles in coverage.
He has been the best long snapper in the league over at least the past 10 seasons or so.
Asked how he knows it’s time to move on, Mannelly replied, “I said I’d listen to my body. And my body’s tapping me on the back and saying, ‘That’s it, bud. I think you’re done.’ So it’s been an awesome 16 years. And I’m fortunate to be able to walk away. People always say that. But I am. The body is just done.”
When he was asked about some of the most memorable games of his career, Mannelly singled out the 2006 NFC Championship Game win over the Saints and his first game as a Chicago Bear, a 24-23 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1998 season opener in which Todd Sauerbrun punted four times and Jeff Jaeger was 3 of 4 on field goal attempts.
I asked him when he realized he might be able to make a career out of long–snapping.
“My junior year,” Mannelly said. “Joe DeLamielleure was our O-line coach there (Duke). And Bob Trott was the other. DeLamielleure is a Hall of Famer, and Trott has been an NFL assistant for a long time.
“They mentioned to me when scouts would come in looking at the seniors, that hey, you’ve got a skill that could last a long time in the NFL. Make sure you keep working on it. You could possibly get a job with that. And the funny thing is, I was dating my (now) wife at the time. My senior year comes along. She wanted to know, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Well, I have a chance to be a long snapper in the NFL.’ Her quote was, ‘That’s a job?”
When I asked Mannelly about the other Bears who’d made a significant impact on his life, he was quick to focus on one teammate in particular.
“Well, Hub, you know one of them. No. 57, Olin Kreutz. We came in together. We’ve got a pretty special relationship. He sent me a pretty cool text this morning from Hawaii.”
I’m sure Mannelly was referring to a special friendship more than the times we had laughed about Olin wanting to tear an arm or a leg off me or some other ink-stained wretch.
Mannelly’s retirement is a huge loss to the Bears, all their fans and the media. But this day comes for every player who’s ever put on a uniform and this young man has earned nothing less than our undying gratitude and respect. We can worry about the football team later.
What is my single most striking impression of Patrick Mannelly’s career?
Of the thousands of Bears I’ve seen come and go over the years, I don’t think I’ve known a better guy.
• Hub Arkush is the editor of Chicago Football. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.