For years, Patrick Mannelly occupied a locker in the corner of Halas Hall where he often sat quietly observing the scene as reporters interviewed Bears teammates who made bigger headlines and earned larger salaries. Over 16 seasons, Mannelly has seen and heard it all.
Every now and then Mannelly would command a crowd himself, but most exchanges with the expert long snapper were casual and cordial, light conversations that confirmed he was just an ordinary guy who happened to be extraordinary at his job. You could debate Mannelly or ask about league trends, his golf game or his father-in-law, Tommy John, and he always had time and a thought. You could walk away from one Bears player cussing you out and find solace in Mannelly letting you in. You could count on civility and consideration from Mannelly in an atmosphere occasionally lacking both.
I often walked out of the Bears locker room after encountering Mannelly near the door thinking this was the rare pro athlete who seemed out of place in that environment and yet, longer than any other Bears player ever, found a way to make himself right at home. A Duke grad, Mannelly adapted to whoever surrounded him. He mixed equally well with offensive linemen and executives, coaches and quarterbacks, columnists and cameramen.
And everybody came to the same conclusion about the player who wore a Bears uniform for a franchise-record 245 games.
They don't come any classier than Patrick Mannelly.
The Bears will miss Mannelly's presence as much as his precision next season after the 39-year-old retired Friday. Offseason hip surgery forced Mannelly to miss organized team activities and the recent mandatory minicamp as he tried to work his way back rehabbing in Southern California but, ultimately, he made the decision the front office feared.
"It has been an awesome 16 years, and I'm fortunate to be able to walk away,'' Mannelly said. "People always say that. But I am. The body is just done. It's time to move on to other things in life and look forward to the next chapter."
To protect themselves, the Bears signed former CFL long snapper Chad Rempel and took a look at Brandon Hartson. But Mannelly's absence will be one of those the Bears might not feel until a high snap in a close game costs them a field goal or shanked punt. Is there any other Bears player Chicago took for granted more than Mannelly in the last 16 years?
"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," general manager Phil Emery said.
The only member of the 1998 NFL draft class still with his original team at the end of the 2013 season, Mannelly spanned the coaching tenures of Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith and the first year of Marc Trestman. He began his career snapping for kicker Jeff Jaeger and ended it setting up Robbie Gould. Mannelly practically has been around the Bears long enough to be considered another McCaskey brother. Chicago likely still will hear from Mannelly, who seamlessly could slip behind a microphone if he wishes, but not seeing No. 65 over the ball on fourth downs at Soldier Field will look odd for a while.
"It's difficult to talk about Patrick as a player in the past tense," Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey said. "Every season, every game, he was a pro's pro. He was a captain, someone his teammates looked up to and sought guidance, direction and inspiration, and he provided it.''
In April, Mannelly received the team's Ed Block Courage Award for professionalism and sportsmanship that he could have won every year for all he meant to the franchise and the community. On Friday, he retired rather than squeeze another season out of a body that was breaking down.
Fitting for a new retiree, Mannelly spent his first official day off the job playing golf at North Shore Country Club in Glenview as part of a Pro-Am before the Champions Tour's Encompass Championship. He commanded a crowd eager to wish him well, including somebody who could relate to playing his entire career with the Bears: Brian Urlacher. Just as life went on without Urlacher, the Bears will move on without Mannelly. That's the way it works in the NFL.
But executing punts, PATs and field goals never will be the same for the Bears.
Nor will walking into the Bears locker room for the rest of us.