Who Needs College? Skipping school hasn't hurt Bears fullback Robert Chancey

November 02, 1998

Robert Chancey shouldn't be here. He seems to know this. Look at
the smile on his face. Look at the way he runs from the field to
the sideline and back again, always at full speed. Chancey, a
Bears fullback, is as vain as a pawnshop guard dog. You can
catch him from time to time scoping his surroundings in utter
amazement. Is this really happening?

NFL players do not materialize from thin air. But here is
Chancey, with no college playing experience, only three years of
high school ball, working his way into the Bears' backfield
rotation. "Experience comes with time," says Glyn Milburn, the
veteran Bears kick returner, "but Robert's got something
intangible. He's a guy who goes 100 percent all the time. You do
that, you succeed."

Chancey, 26, knows this well. Seven years ago, as a senior at
Stanhope Elmore High in Millbrook, Ala., he was one of the
state's top prospects in football and baseball. Although
physical contact was his first love (as it is for most big
running backs), money was a close second. Four games into the
football season he left the team to concentrate on playing
baseball. In June of the following year he was offered a
$108,000 signing bonus as the Baltimore Orioles' sixth-round
draft pick. "You're 19 years old, and the money looks like so
much," says Chancey, who had been recruited for football by,
among others, Auburn, Florida State, Nebraska and Notre Dame.
"I'd never had that kind of money. It was like, Where do I sign?"

In two years as a rightfielder for the Gulf Coast Orioles of the
Rookie League, however, Chancey couldn't solve one major problem:
how to hit a curveball. "In the minors you have to put up with a
lot," he says. "It was never easy."

Chancey batted .236 with the Orioles, then spent parts of two
more seasons in baseball, one with the independent Beaumont
(Texas) Bullfrogs and another with the New York Mets' Rookie
League club in Kingsport, Tenn. In the summer of '96, angry,
frustrated and out of options, he started thinking about those
good ol' Friday nights in Millbrook--darting through a pack of
linebackers, stomping over defensive backs, waking up sore and
loving it. He considered himself too old for college, however,
so his agent arranged a September '96 tryout in Tampa with a
scout for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football
League.

"I was running around in shorts, and there's no way he could
tell how physical I was," says Chancey. "He said I needed to go
back to college. That was a really discouraging moment."

Chancey bounced back when his cousin Antowain Smith, a
University of Houston running back at the time, invited him to
tag along to a workout in early '97. While Smith, who would be
drafted in the first round by the Bills, was swarmed by NFL
scouts and player-personnel officials, Chancey got what he
considered to be only a token opportunity to run the 40. Then
something happened. "I ran a 4.58," he says, "and suddenly they
wanted to see if I could catch and block and all that. About an
hour and a half later [Chargers general manager] Bobby Beathard
called. The next day I was off to San Diego."

Chancey spent the first nine games of the '97 season on the
Chargers' practice squad and was activated for the last seven,
playing exclusively on special teams. As soon as he reported to
training camp this year, however, he was cut. Beathard admits it
was a boneheaded move. Two days later the Bears picked up
Chancey, hoping he would provide solid backup for Ty Hallock. In
eight games, Chancey has carried 13 times for 50 yards and
caught eight passes for 85 yards. In a 23-20 win over the Oilers
on Sunday, he scored his first NFL touchdown. Although Chancey
needs to work on his blocking and pass catching, Bears vice
president of player personnel Mark Hatley likens him to Chiefs
fullback Kimble Anders, who played in the Pro Bowl for the past
three seasons.

"Sometimes I regret having played baseball," Chancey says, "but
then I really think about it: Maybe if I had gone to college to
play football, I would've gotten hurt and couldn't have come
back. God makes things happen for a reason. I think this is
where he wants me to be."

No one in Chicago would argue the point.

--Jeff Pearlman

COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT TROYANOS Chancey's speed got NFL scouts to overlook his inexperience. [Robert Chancey]
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