Pat Mannelly always did get it, right up to the end.
“I always said I’d listen to my body,” the Bears’ long snapper said Friday in announcing his retirement from the game. “My body tapped me on the back and said, ‘Buddy, you’re done.’”
Mannelly was one of the true gems that come along in a business where friendships and careers are sometimes fleeting. But he was one of two in particular — Curtis Conway is the other — that will always stand out to this reporter, two that understood situations beyond just the football field.
Conway had just signed his second Bears contract, in 1995, for what was even then enough money that between that and his rookie deal, he and his children and probably grandchildren wouldn’t have to work again.
Shortly after he and agent Tom Condon wrapped up the deal, Conway came by the old Halas Hall. We talked about the contract, but more about the fact that he had also just finished up his degree at USC, something he’d worked on constantly in his spare time since coming out early for the 1993 draft.
I told Curtis that I thought it pretty impressive that he’d stuck to it academically even as he was inking a deal worth more money than most would earn in their lifetimes. Then he explained one of the biggest reasons for getting the degree:
“You know, Moon, I just had twin boys,” Curtis said. “And when I tell them to always finish what they start, I never want them to be able to say, ‘Well, Daddy, you didn’t.’”
Somehow the world was just a little better place for that attitude.
When Pat Mannelly was coming out of high school in Georgia, he was among the most recruited prep linemen in the nation. He had offers from USC, Notre Dame, Georgia, Michigan and so on. He chose Duke, which was anything but a football power. When I asked him why Duke:
“I was basically given a winning lottery ticket. I could cash it in anywhere. And I knew that if I was good enough, the NFL would find me no matter where I was — which it did — so why not cash in my ticket for the best education I could get in the meantime.”
One of those things you wish more young athletes would get as they sort through college choices.
Hip surgery was the final straw this time and Pat could have come back to the Bears for another year if he’d so chosen. But he said the hip had bothered him the past 6-8 years and had just worsened in the past couple to the point where it became too much.
“I feel 39 years old,” he said. (Of course, a lot of us would like to feel 39 years old again, Pat, but never mind….)
Coincidentally, Pat announced his retirement after 16 years on the 16th anniversary of his wedding with wife Tamara. The two were together when Mannelly was told by Duke line coach Joe DeLamiellleure, a Hall of Fame guard, that he could have an NFL career as a long snapper.
Tamara’s reaction: “’That’s a job?’” Pat recalled, laughing.
It was, because Pat treated it like one, with complete professionalism and still appreciating the wonder of it all. He recalled setting up for his first long-snap, looking back through his legs and seeing punter Todd Sauerbrun waiting.
“I wish I could have taken a snapshot of that,” Pat said.
Says it all somehow.