By Jack M Silverstein
4:09 PM CDT, September 12, 2012
The Bears used the final pick of the sixth round of the 1998 draft on a long snapper from Duke. Fifteen years later, Patrick Mannelly still is the team's long snapper and the franchise's longest-tenured player. On Thursday he will play in his 29th Bears-Packers game, and he talked to RedEye about his experience in the NFL's oldest rivalry.
Patrick Mannelly: I remember my rookie year going up there—I think we played up there first, if I remember right—but I just remember the trip up there. They played a big video of Bears-Packers highlights from Day 1 until the year previous. Being a rookie, you realize how important this was to the city of Chicago and the Chicago Bears.
Other things I remember from the first game is Reggie White. We're getting over on fourth down [on a punt] and Reggie White is standing over the guard right next to me. He's an iconic player, and seeing him and how big he was, I was like, "Holy [pause] blank," you know? "That's a big dude. That's Reggie White." That was one of the shocking moments when you're young. "OK, I'm in the NFL."
The Bears lost both Packers games in 1998, but Mannelly's first win over the Packers came Nov. 7, 1999, six days after Walter Payton's death. The Bears held a memorial service for Payton at Soldier Field on Nov. 6, and the next day they beat the Packers 14-13 on a blocked field goal at the end of regulation.
[Long pause.] Yeah, that was definitely a, I don't want to say "interesting" week, but definitely a heightened week. Knowing we were going down to Soldier Field for his memorial service brought more attention to it. And then I believe it was Bryan Robinson who blocked a field goal at the end of the game. He said Walter Payton helped raise him up or something to block it. I thought that was pretty interesting and pretty funny.
Had you met Walter?
I had. I met him my rookie year. We were in La Crosse, Wis., scrimmaging against the Saints, and I was on a pay phone in the dining hall. He came over and grabbed my neck right here [motions to back of his neck]. Everybody talked about his grip, and he grabbed my neck and I turned around and said "Who the … ?" I'm on the phone with my wife and I'm like "Uh, hold on." He was like, "I just wanted to introduce myself. I want to meet all the rookies. Nice to meet you." And he walked on.
My wife was like "Who was that?" And I said, "That's Walter Payton." "Who is that again?" "You don't know who that is?" "I know the name." And I said, "Well, I'll call you back. You have to figure out who that is." And I hung up the phone on her. [Laughs.] It was kind of funny. She obviously figured out who it was, and I called her later in the afternoon or that night. But yeah, that's my Walter Payton story.
OK. Craziest story of fans during Bears-Packers week.
PM: I tell you what, Jeff Jaeger my rookie year when we were up there playing, he said, "Take the second bus over. That way you can see the tailgating and all that stuff." So I took the second bus to the game, it's 30 minutes after our first bus, and I was just in awe of seeing a pro stadium with the atmosphere it had, like a college. I grew up in the South, like an SEC tailgating atmosphere, but in a small town, Green Bay, where people are parking cars on their lawns, and it would say "Park here, and for an extra five dollars you can use our bathroom in our house." Stuff like that. I thought that was crazy, but it's pretty cool.
You've now played more years than any Bear. What is it that is special about Packers week? For a player, for you.
PM: For me, I think it's the fact that they've played the most games between any two teams in the history of the NFL. So to say that you're part of history, that's the biggest thing for me. The other part is just the whole week—what you hear on the radio, the TV, your friends and the fans. There's split homes, there's husbands and wives pulling for different teams, there's brothers pulling for different teams. That's kind of the fun part about it.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. Say hey @readjack.
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