LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears are sending three special teams players to the Pro Bowl for the first time in team history. But a fourth may be just as deserving as Devin Hester, Robbie Gould and Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly has performed at an All-Pro level again this season, but because the NFL does not include the position on its Pro Bowl ballot, the 1998 sixth-round draft pick has no chance of being voted to the all-star game.
Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly is the Bears' active leader with 139 games played.
Not having the position on the ballot caused a major snafu last season. Desmond Clark, who received Pro Bowl consideration as a tight end, was the only NFL starter listed as possessing the ability to long-snap. As a result, Clark was initially chosen as the NFC’s “need player.”
After the league realized the error, it rescinded the Pro Bowl invitation to Clark, but not before the Bears tight end had cancelled a family vacation that had been booked weeks in advance.
Knowing that none of the NFL’s long-snappers are regular starters at another position, the Bears sent a letter to the league suggesting that the long-snapper position be added to the ballot.
The NFL has slightly altered its policy this year, requiring teams to designate only their primary long-snapper on the ballot. If a long-snapper is not selected at a primary position, the Pro Bowl coaching staff must select a long-snapper as their need player. The coaching staffs for the Pro Bowl come from the teams which lost the conference championships.
Those who work closest with Mannelly are convinced that he deserves to be a Pro Bowler. The longest tenured player on the Bears roster along with Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, the Duke product and team captain hasn’t had a bad snap in nine NFL seasons.
“He’s very deserving,” said punter Brad Maynard. “Year-in and year-out he’s the most consistent snapper that I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the most consistent in the league, definitely in the NFC. I never understood why there’s not a spot on the ballot for long-snappers.”
“Every year (long-snappers) end up being the need player on both sides, so why not vote the best guy in every year?” Toub said. “He’s so accurate. He’s always going to hit within probably a 20-inch spot at 15 yards every snap, so that makes Brad’s job a lot easier when he knows that the ball’s going to be put right on his right hip every time.”
Mannelly has missed three games due to injury in his nine seasons with the Bears. It seems that those are the occasions when his value to the team is most apparent.
“When you don’t realize that the long snapper’s out there, that means he’s doing a great job and that’s the case with Pat,” Toub said. “I don’t have to worry about it.”
“It’s huge,” Maynard said. “When I don’t have to worry about any problems with the snap, I can focus on where I want to go directionally and it makes my job so easy.
Maynard is most impressed with Mannelly’s consistency.
“When he comes off the field and he says he had a bad one, it was six inches off center of something like that,” Maynard said. “But I never have to move.”
Bears players and coaches aren’t the only ones who believe that Mannelly should go to the Pro Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles actually wrote him in on the ballot they submitted to the league.
“Pat is not only a good long-snapper, he’s a good leader,” Kreutz said. “He shows everybody how to work. He outworks a lot of people and he’s a long-snapper. Most teams’ long-snappers don’t do very much, but Pat does a lot.
“He’s the best in the league at what he does. You would think that the best guy at every position would be in the Pro Bowl, so you’d hope that he would get a chance.”