It was almost 20 years ago when Patrick Mannelly, then a senior at Duke, was discussing the future with his girlfriend, Tamara John, the daughter of former Major League pitcher Tommy John, and the woman who would soon become his wife.
"I have a chance to be a long-snapper in the NFL," Mannelly said.
"That's a job?" Tamara replied.
It was a job that lasted 16 years after the Bears drafted the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Mannelly in the sixth round in 1998. He appeared in all 16 games during 12 of his 16 NFL seasons and in at least 14 games in 15 of his 16 years. He missed just 11 games during his pro career.
But Mannelly, who played in more Bears games than anyone in franchise history, has decided to retire rather than return for a 17th season.
After playing in his 245th game last season, Mannelly had hip surgery. He had delayed a decision on his future until he could determine if he would be healthy enough to function at the near-flawless level he had maintained in his career.
Mannelly said he listened to his body throughout the off-season, and the feedback he received was that enough was enough.
"I wanted to go all-in with my rehab, working out, everything," the 39-year-old Mannelly said. "And 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.' 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."
Mannelly, an unrestricted free agent, was in town in April to receive the Ed Block Courage Award, which is voted on by teammates and given each year to a player on each NFL team for acting as a role model and exhibiting sportsmanship and courage.
He contemplated retirement at that time and said: "I'll step back and get away and figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life."
Now he'll have plenty of time to figure out his future, which he said could include coaching. A lot of his pondering will be done on the golf course. Mannelly is participating this week in the pro-am portion of the Encompass Championship, the Champions Tour event at Northshore Country Club in Glenview. One familiar sight every year at the start of training camp was Mannelly hustling to a local course as soon as he unpacked.
"Right now, I just want to step back and enjoy some time by myself, and we'll see in the future," Mannelly said. "That's something I've looked into, so we'll see."
While Mannelly's body can no longer withstand the rigors of the NFL, he said he wanted to walk away while he could do so without a limp. He was asked if he'll be able to lead a normal post-football life.
"I hope so," he said. "I have a pretty old hip. I'm still having some issues with it now. It's a lot better, and I can function in daily life better. I just started picking up a golf club two weeks ago. So that's a big deal in my life.
"(The hip) is something that has bothered me for 6-8 years, and then last year it got really bad. But I'm hoping the surgery can put off a bigger surgery later on in life. I want to be able to live a normal life. Not limp around and ache every time I walk. I'm not going to feel perfect, I'm not going to feel great, but I'm wanting to feel pretty darn good."
During Mannelly's absence, the Bears signed Canadian Football League veteran long-snapper Chad Rempel, and first-year player Brandon Hartson has also been working as a long-snapper during the Bears' off-season program, which concluded Thursday.
One of the league's top coverage long snappers, Mannelly had 81 career special teams tackles, third-most by a Bears player since 1995 when the statistic was first officially recorded. He had three seasons in which he had 11 special teams tackles.
"Although I have deep respect for Pat's decision, I'm saddened by it because we are going to lose an extremely high-level leader who had an impact on our team," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "Not only from his excellent performance on the field over a very long, sustained and historical amount of time, but in all areas of our team.
"It starts with his leadership in the locker room and him reaching out to other players who need help, to all the work he has done in the community, and the way he carried the Chicago Bears mantle. Any time he was in the public and represented the Chicago Bears, he did it at the highest level possible. We are losing a great person and a great player, one who will always remain a Bear in our hearts."
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