By Matt Citak
Matt Forte and Jay Cutler shared the Chicago Bears’ backfield for seven seasons. The two were some of Chicago’s biggest playmakers on offense, and played significant roles in the Bears’ run to the NFC Championship Game during the 2010 season.
But a lot of time has passed since that NFC Championship run. The Bears decided not to re-sign Forte following the 2015 season, and a year later, Cutler was released with a few years remaining on his contract.
The two were back on the field together this past Sunday as the New York Jets welcomed the Miami Dolphins to the Meadowlands. But for the first time in their careers, Forte and Cutler were facing each other on opposite sidelines.
“It was weird, you know, him being in the backfield with me for so long,” Forte told CBS Local about playing against his longtime quarterback for the first time. “I talked to him before the game, just talking about family life and all that stuff. How he feels [in Miami]. Just rehashing old times and stuff like that. He was the same Jay I’m used to knowing. It was definitely weird seeing him on the other side of the field. But it ended up being a good day for us, unfortunately for him. But it was nice to see him.”
The Bears selected Forte with the 44th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The running back rewarded Chicago for drafting him by racking up 1,238 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season. But Forte proved to the front office, his teammates, and the entire NFL that he could do more than just carry the ball. In addition to his stellar running stats, the back added 63 receptions for 477 yards and four touchdowns, finishing his first season with the third-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL.
From when he was drafted to when Chicago decided to let him go, Forte led all NFL players with 12,718 yards from scrimmage, while ranking fourth with 8,602 rushing yards. He also led all running backs with 487 receptions and 4,116 receiving yards, and was named to two Pro Bowls. Yet it wasn’t enough for the Bears to want to keep one of the franchise’s greatest all-time running backs.
“That’s how the business of the NFL goes. If that team doesn’t feel like you value them anymore, then they’re going to get rid of you, no matter what,” Forte said about his departure from Chicago. “They don’t care how long you’ve been there or what you’ve done for the team. No matter what blood, sweat, and tears you put in to going out there. Whether you played injured or not, whatever. While I was there, I saw it happen to Brian Urlacher. When I saw something like that happen to a first ballot Hall of Fame-type guy, and for a team to cut ties with him like that like it was nothing, I figured a guy like myself, I’m no different.
“It was unfortunate that happened, but that brings about new opportunities. Just like in life. Failure is not fatal. It brings about more opportunities for you to do something else. I got an opportunity to come to the Jets and play here.”
Forte landed on his feet following the Bears’ decision to let him go, signing a three-year, $12 million deal with the New York Jets. While he is happy to now be a member of the Jets, it seemed clear that the veteran back was not thrilled with how things played out in Chicago towards the end of his time there.
“That’s kind of some of the things that the fans don’t get to experience, so they don’t understand that part,” said Forte about the end of his tenure with the Bears. “When a player chooses the best scenario or the best situation for himself, [the fans] get mad at the player because, ‘Oh he’s not loyal.’ But at the same time, when the team chooses what’s best for them, whatever they think that might be, and they’re not loyal to the player, [the fans] don’t have a problem with it. It’s backwards.”
Forte will go down as one of the greatest running backs to ever play for the Chicago Bears. He ranks second in franchise history in rushing yards, receiving yards by a running back, yards from scrimmage, 100-yard rushing games, scrimmage yards per game, and games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage, trailing NFL legend Walter Payton in each of those categories.
And while he may not like how everything went down following his final season in Chicago, Forte had nothing but kind words for Bears fans.
“It was awesome being there. Something I will never forget is walking out on Soldier’s Field and having your name announced,” said the 31-year-old running back. “[Bears fans] always talk about Walter Payton and Gale Sayers, and then some of them mention my name. That’s one of the highest honors you can get as a running back. So it was an honor for me to play in the footsteps of those guys. Not only those guys, but all of the other guys. Mike Ditka. Brian Urlacher I played with. Lance Briggs. All the great Bears. [Charles] “Peanut” Tillman. All those guys. It was the highest honor to play with and have my name mentioned among those guys.
“When I played my last game [in Chicago] against the Lions, I went around the stadium and shook a lot of the fans hands because I didn’t know if I’d be back or not. It ended up that I wasn’t so I was glad that I did that because I wanted to show them the appreciation I had. That they would come out to the games in that cold weather, whether we were winning or not.”
New York is scheduled to play in Chicago at some point during the 2018 season. If Forte is still a member of the Jets next year, Bears fans will get their first opportunity to show their appreciation for one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.