LAKE FOREST – Congratulations, Matt Forte.
You’re No. 1 … times two.
Which is to say, you’re No. 2.
In another city, for another team, at another position, No. 2 might not be a big deal. But when you are a running back for the Bears, it’s an enormous accomplishment.
Because Walter Payton is the No. 1 running back in franchise history, and that will never change. Some day, we’ll have flying cars, but “Sweetness” still will be No. 1. We’ll have a cure for hiccups and chips in our brains, but Payton will remain on top.
Therefore, the best Forte could achieve is No. 2.
He’s done it.
“I’m just humbled by it,” Forte said Friday at Halas Hall.
Lost in the Bears’ maddening second-half skid is the fact that Forte has seized the silver medal in almost every career rushing category in franchise history.
In the past few weeks, he has climbed to No. 2 in rushing yards (6,298), receiving yards by a running back (2,770), total yards from scrimmage (9,068), games with 150-plus yards from scrimmage (15), and yards from scrimmage per game (104.2).
On the way, Forte has passed great running backs with names such as Gale Sayers, Neal Anderson, Rick Casares and Matt Suhey. Forte now trails only Payton, who has a 10,428-yard lead in rushing and a 12,196-yard lead in yards from scrimmage.
“It’s an individual type of statistic, but it takes the whole team,” said Forte, who needs 29 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard milestone for the fourth time in his career. “The offensive line has to block, and the receivers, tight ends, all that stuff. So it’s kind of a team goal, as well. …
“Neal Anderson had a lot of great years here, so to be able to surpass that and be second behind Walter Payton – I’m a ways away behind him – but it’s still something cool to think about.”
First things first, and second things second, Forte deserves high praise for what he has achieved in six seasons on the lakefront. When the Bears drafted him out of Tulane with the No. 44 overall pick in 2008, he seemed like someone who could develop into a productive running back a la Thomas Jones.
But Forte, who will turn 28 years old next week, has exceeded “productive” status. He has been a Pro Bowl player, and he deserves to make his second trip this season.
Forte also deserves credit for his durability, especially during an era in which the majority of running backs have the shelf life of spinach. Although Forte has battled plenty of nagging injuries throughout his career, he has not allowed them to keep him sidelined for long. Since entering the NFL, he has missed five games out of 92.
This season has been no different, as Forte has worked hard to recover from several setbacks. He missed zero games despite his latest injury, a hyperextended right knee.
We might not see the work that Forte puts in during his days off from practice, but you can bet that the hours are long and the exercises are grueling.
“It’s funny,” Forte said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it’s your day off.’ But it’s never really a day off. You have to work and continue to try to get your body back before the games, leading up to the games. It’s all day, every day, really. …
“At running back, besides talent, speed, power and burst and all that stuff, durability is one of the main factors. If you’re not on the field, you can have all of those characteristics, but if you’re not playing, then it doesn’t matter.”
Forte has mattered since the day he stepped on to the field.
Ever heard of Pope Linus?
He took the keys from Peter.
It would defend Mount Everest in a basketball game.
How about the “Model A?” It followed the “Model T,” which makes one question Henry Ford’s alphabet.
Speaking of wheels, Forte has them.
He’s under contract with the Bears through 2015, which means that he could tack on another few thousand yards to solidify his second-place perch. As for No. 1, Forte laughed at the thought of catching Payton on the all-time list.
“I hope so,” Forte said. “Hopefully, I don’t have to play ’til I’m 40.”
How about 39½?