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Bears long snapper retires after 16-year career

CHICAGO (AP) He played far more games with the Chicago Bears than Brian Urlacher ever did and more games with the team than Dick Butkus and Jim McMahon combined.

But because he played mostly with his head down looking between his legs, there's a chance you never heard of long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who announced his retirement Friday after playing more years and more games with the Bears than any player in team history.

''It has been an honor to be a Bear and represent them for my career,'' he said.

In his 16 years and 245 games with the team, Mannelly snapped the ball for extra points, punts and field goals 2,282 times. He and his teammates must have been doing something right because he helped the Bears set an NFL record for most consecutive unblocked punts - 920 - and another NFL record for games played - 180 - without a blocked punt.

And for a player who was in a most vulnerable position with huge defensive lineman trying to run him over to get to the kicker or punter, he was remarkably durable. In 12 of those 16 years, he played in all 16 games and missed just 11 games in his career. His 245 games puts him in a tie for 43rd on the all-time NFL list for games played, according to the Bears.

The 39-year-old Mannelly said age caught up with him. Hip surgery and a host of aches and pains, including those in his left knee and his shoulders and elbows made it clear to him that it was time to retire.

''My body's tapping me on the back and saying, `That's it, bud, you're done,''' he said.

Mannelly's favorite memories are in some way like other players. He talked about the thrill he heard when the crowd at Soldier Field roared as the team ran on the field. Then there was the 2006 NFC Championship game.

''Celebrating with your fans in the home stadium is pretty awesome and then knowing you get to go live a dream of playing in a Super Bowl is great,'' he said.

But his memories serve as a reminder that his job is unusual. Like the time he told his then-girlfriend who is now his wife while the two were in college at Duke that he might have a career as a long snapper.

''Her quote was, `That's a job?''' he said.

Like most players, he has a vivid recollection of his first game, though his memories are a bit different because they were upside down.

''I remember looking between my legs before the first snap of the game... and I actually told myself to take a little mental snapshot,'' he said.

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Online:

Mannelly site: http://www.longsnapper.com/index2.shtml

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