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Career in a Day

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It's been a long time since I actively wished I was a professional athlete. Bills, work, family and real life in general have taken the place of fall afternoons spent wishing I was Jack Lambert.

But I have to admit there were a few hours on a recent Sunday evening where I found myself wishing I was a 25-year-old blond-haired kid from Forney, Texas named Caleb.

As an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State in 2008, Caleb Hanie's career NFL experience entering late January consisted of eight completions, 66 yards and the same amount of touchdown passes as me: zero. But he was in the NFL, playing for a storied franchise in a great city and presumably enjoying the Bears' ride to the  NFC Championship game as the back-up to veteran Todd Collins, who was the back-up to starter Jay Cutler.

But things got ugly quickly on Jan. 23, and the Packers defense rendered Cutler ineffective and ultimately unable to play; Collins was even worse.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate Bears' coach Lovie Smith called for Caleb Hanie.

With the Bears trailing 14-0 in the second half, their Super Bowl hopes slipping away, Hanie buckled his chin strap and entered the fray.

And this is when I found myself wishing I was him.

"You dream about it and you try to envision what would happen if you have to go in the game,” Hanie said later. “But you don’t expect to come in and play on a day like this."

But he did, and the next thing we knew, Bears running back Chester Taylor crossed the goal line to make it 14-7. Soldier Field erupted.

“This kid's living a dream,” I thought as Hanie embraced his teammates.

But Jan. 23, 2011, was not a dream. It was a real day in the real world, and Caleb Hanie was an inexperienced quarterback thrown into a volatile situation against a dominant defense. Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji drove that truth home when he intercepted Hanie's pass and danced 18 yards into the end zone for a Packer score.

“I don't envy this kid,” one play-by-play announcer said as the young QB walked off the field.

But I sure did.

Hanie's day wasn't over yet.

Two minutes later he threw a 35-yard pass to Earl Bennett to pull Chicago within seven points with just under five minutes remaining.

The defense held, and the kid from Forney, Texas, strolled onto the field one more time. With the crowd in a frenzy and the tying score out there for the taking, Hanie stepped under center and moved the Bears down the field, the end zone getting closer with every snap.

“What would I give to be in this situation?” I wondered.

Money? A limb? An organ? Probably all of the above.

Soon enough, though, Hanie's day came to an end, as he threw his second and final interception on 4th down with 50 seconds to go.

“Crazy how it works,” he said afterward. “It just shows you right there you have to be prepared for your moment. It might pass you by if you don’t take advantage of it.”

The Bears didn't win, Hanie didn't vault to sudden fame. He may never be more than a third-string NFL quarterback. He may never get into another NFL game.

He doesn't need to.

If his entire career consists only of that short window on that blustery Chicago day, it's enough.

Soon enough, Hanie will likely find himself selling copiers, or cars, or insurance, as a means to deal with his own real-life issues.

But the two hours or so he spent directing the Bears' offense on Jan. 23, 2011, aren't going away. They are in the books.

And how cool is that?

ndhater

Great article - - - one that a lot of us can relate to - - - well done

ndhater

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