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Saying So Long to the Work Horse

One reality is abundantly clear the older I get following and covering sports media: No matter the legacy, business is — and always will be — the prevailing factor in deciding a player’s career.

Matt Forte is no exception.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 1.28.12 PM.pngBy Jake Bartelson | @JakeBartelson
Host of “The Jake Bartelson Show” on WCRD, 91.3FM
Member of Ball State Sports Link


One reality is abundantly clear the older I get following and covering sports media: No matter the legacy, business is — and always will be — the prevailing factor in deciding a player’s career.

Matt Forte is no exception.

Despite 8,602 rushing-yards and 12,718 all-purpose yards in his eight seasons donning a Bears uniform, an honor second-to-none other than Walter Payton, Forte likely understood the tealeaves: On the wrong side of 30-years-old, and a young stallion in Jeremy Langford in the stable.

The star back broke the news via Instagram, informing his days with the franchise have come to a close.

“I was informed earlier this week from the GM [Ryan Pace] that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency,” posted Forte. “I will remain forever grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history. My only regret is not being able to win a Lombardi trophy for the best fans in all of sports. I’m excited about the next chapter of my NFL career.”

Matt-FortePace released a statement shortly after thanking him for his professionalism.

Make no mistake: Forte repeatedly told the media he wanted to be back, but clearly Pace has other ideas for the franchise. What, exactly, remains to be seen; but, for now, it appears to be second-year running back Jeremy Langford’s show.

Langford finished his rookie year with 537 rushing-yards and six touchdowns. Ka’Deem Carey figures as his primary backup.

Forte should expect a market to materialize quickly, and the Packers, Cowboys and Patriots should come knocking seconds after free agency begins in early March.

Pundits have thrown Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore’s contract of three-years, 12 million as a logical starting point for his next deal. I’d agree. Forte has shown an incredible durability for the span of his NFL career, and is a legitimate dual threat out of the backfield. He might’ve been somewhat overshadowed with Adrian Peterson in the same division, but shouldn’t have.

Much will be written on Forte’s legacy and impact he’ll undoubtedly leave at Halas Hall, but I’ll submit one of my own, brief experiences with the star running back.

I’ve only met Forte twice as a professional. In my most extended visit, I covered his third football ProCamp he hosted for 300 Chicagoland children. I was allowed a chance to virtually interview him one-on-one, and to this day, he remains one of my top experiences. It’s not everyday a 20-year-old Ball State student converses with an All-Pro stud for 10 minutes or so.

In my eyes, Forte understands playing professional football comes with the responsibility of carrying yourself in a higher manner. It speaks when hundreds of kids squeal as their Bears Hero throws a football their way. I recall gleeful smiles ear-to-ear all across the Addison Trail High School football field on a gorgeous June morning. You couldn’t help but be happy for them.

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Picture courtesy of Jacob Bartelson

“There’s not a lot of positive male role models out there. Just to inspire them from a young age, and mentor them,” Forte told me. “It helps them to become better men, and there’s girls out here, too, so better women as well.”

Forgive the cliché: It is rare to find people who understand the game is bigger than they are. Regardless if Forte goes on to win a Lombardi trophy before his career is finished, he is a winner in my book.

When players arrived to clean their lockers on the heels of a 6-10 first campaign under head coach John Fox, the back left one item hanging in his locker: A tattered, cut-off sleeve number 22 shirt displaying “WORK HORSE” in the center — A visual representation of a career that will not be forgotten in Chicago for quite some time.

Yet, it’ll be that June morning I will forever engrave his true value to the Chicago community: A professional attitude and mindset — On and off the field.

Godspeed, Mr. Forte.

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