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Updated: October 9, 2013 6:13AM
Matt Forte was more reflective, soft-spoken and introspective than I expected when I met him at his home near Lake Forest.
This knee-jerk assumption sadly says more about me, and maybe his other “fans,” than about the Chicago Bears star running back.
“Some fans don’t care about anything but what I do on the football field,” he told me in mid-July when training camp started. “But I want to leave a legacy as a father, too, and by impacting young kids’ lives. I don’t want my tombstone to just say: Matt Forte, football player.”
Still, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Forte is expected to be the focus of the Bears offensive attack this season under new head coach Marc Trestman. The oft-labeled “offensive guru” has revamped the team’s historically offensive passing game.
We’ll find out today when the Bears open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, predicted by many NFL experts, pundits and analysts to go to the Super Bowl. Then again, those so-called experts aren’t always correct with their pigskin hypotheses.
After a Bears game last season when Forte injured his ankle, he recalls driving home from the stadium and listening to sports talk radio. Those “experts” informed fans — and Forte — that he suffered a high ankle sprain and he’d be out for six to eight weeks.
“Man, I missed only one full game,” sighed Forte, proudly noting he’s missed only five full games in his five seasons with the Bears. “You can’t believe everything you hear from those guys.”
Being injured while playing football is like being bloodied in shark-infested waters, he said.
“You feel kind of helpless on the field, but you just go out there and do what you can do,” Forte said from his living room sofa. “As a player, you notice any injury times a thousand.”
I met with Forte, who’s 27, and his lovely 23-year-old wife, Danielle, in the couple’s French Normandy-style house near Lake Forest, home of the Bears headquarters and training facility. They were welcoming, candid and head over heels in love with their baby daughter, Nahla.
Forte cradles her like a football in his tattooed muscular arms, saying “it just comes naturally” while locking eyes with the bubbly infant.
“She’s a daddy’s girl,” Danielle said proudly.
To read more about Forte’s personal life and his new family, including his list of life’s priorities — faith, family, education and then sports — read an excerpt of my story for Chicago Parent magazine at www.chicago
parent.com/magazines/web-only/2013-september/chicago-bear-matt-forte. The full version appears in the magazine’s October issue beginning Sept. 24.
Regarding his football life, Forte describes himself as humble, not shy, on the field and during post-game interviews.
“I really don’t like cocky players,” he said.
The 27-year-old self-described country boy from Slidell, La., enjoys hunting, fishing and being outdoors, which explains his new home, surrounded by woods, not people.
“A lot of fans think I just show up on Sunday and play ball, but there’s a lot of work involved,” said Forte, who has averaged 4.6 yards per carry the past three seasons.
Danielle noted, “Fans think that NFL players are superhuman or something.”
Physical therapist appointments, chiropractor visits, weight workouts, running up and down a steep hill, even Pilates stretches — Forte says he is ready for the rigorous demands of a 16-game NFL season. Not to mention post-season collisions, if the team makes it that far.
“I’m excited about this season,” he said firmly.
“He likes to be challenged,” his wife added.
He’ll be challenged, to be sure, beginning today against the Bengals who have a dominant defensive line, combining for 32 quarterback sacks last season.
I’m more interested in how the Bears rookies handle the pressure of their first NFL game, especially the two rookie offensive linemen who will be blocking for Forte. Will they blow holes open for him or blow their assignments? Will they manhandle their opponents or mishandle the line-of-scrimmage check-downs from Jay Cutler?
If we view the game as strictly a sport, focusing only on the competition, we may be disappointed in its outcome. But if we view it as sports entertainment, as I’ve been doing as I get older, we should enjoy every minute of it.
It may be the livelihood and lifelong dream of NFL players such as Forte but, let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s only a game to the rest of us. At least it should be. Yet I’ve seen otherwise mature and level-headed adults act like a child when the Bears lose.
Really? The game means that much to you and your life? Maybe you should reconsider your priorities like Forte has suggested.
I’ve been a Bears fan for more than 45 years, watching every game since Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus played on gimpy knees and gung-ho war-cries.
I’ve watched largely forgotten players like quarterbacks Jack Concannon, Bobby Douglass and Vince Evans. I’ve also watched two Bears teams go the Super Bowl, offering us bonus games to watch with pride and bragging rights.
Through the decades, win or lose, one thing to me has emerged amid the final scores and new team rosters: My personal life doesn’t change too much either way.
Some “diehard” fans may view this as apathy. I view it as acceptance. It’s not contempt, but contentment.
As Mark Twain once quipped, it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. NFL players like Forte are capturing lightning in a bottle every Sunday. The rest of us are capturing lightning bugs.
Football season is back, my favorite season of the year. Enjoy its warm illuminating glow while it lasts, regardless if your team wins or loses.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.