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Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
16-year longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

The Chicago Bears have lost a lot of veteran leaders and stars this past couple seasons since Marc Trestman took over as head coach. I wasn't terribly surprised when Brian Urlacher became a free agent and retired, although I was extremely disappointed that he would not be back in a Bears' uniform. Earlier this offseason, return specialist Devin Hester was released and signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Hester was one of the most electric players in the league in his prime, and he was a huge factor in making me watch football (and specifically the Bears) on a more regular basis. These guys were probably my two favorite players, and neither of them is a Bear anymore.

And now, yet another elite veteran leader has departed from the team. 16-year veteran longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

Longsnappers are unheralded players. You won't find any action figures or jerseys for Mannelly in sporting goods stores, nor would you even find Mannelly in the rosters of some Madden NFL video game (that I can recall); although, I would always add him to my roster every year before starting a franchise. But whether he's a household name or not, Mannelly was a cornerstone of the Chicago Bears' special teams for 16 years! His precision has been a key factor to the success of the special teams unit, which has been widely considered an elite unit during Lovie Smith's era. In his 2006 Pro Bowl acceptance speech, kicker Robbie Gould praised Mannelly specifically for his role in Gould's kicking success (Gould is currently one of the most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history).

Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
Patrick Mannelly practicing longsnapping with holder/punter Adam Podlesh and placekicker Robbie Gould.

Mannelly had suffered from injuries the past few seasons, but when he was playing, he was as good as perfect. As far as I know, he didn't botch a single snap during his entire professional career. He also spent his entire 16-year career with the Bears (who drafted him in round 6 of the 1998 NFL draft), and holds the team record for the most seasons spent with the Bears and for most games played as a Bear. He played under four special teams coordinators: Joe DeCamillis, Dave Toub, Mike Sweatman and Keith Armstrong. And he played under four head coaches: Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, and Marc Trestman. And he played at a consistently elite level for all of these coaches. He also played in the Super Bowl XLI (in which the Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts).

Viewers rarely ever notice a long-snapper except for when they screw up, so Mannelly was hardly ever noticed. While Mannelly was on duty, Bears fans never had to worry about giving up free points due to botched punt snaps, or failing a game-winning field goal because the ball didn't get into the hands of the holder. When Patrick Mannelly squated down as long-snapper, Adam Podlesh kneeled down as a holder, and Robbie Gould stared at the goal posts waiting to kick, Bears coaches and fans could expect - without reservation - that points would be going up on the board for the Bears. And they were almost always right! But now, one-third of that scoring machine is gone and will need to be replaced with an open competition in training camp.

You probably didn't hear this as often as you should have, so I'd like to take the opportunity to say: Thank you, Patrick Mannelly. Thank you for your many years of service to the team. I'm sure that I speak for many Bears fans when I say that I will miss you, and you have my best wishes for your future - wherever it may take you!

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