You try to come up with plausible excuses for the absence of a veteran who was supposed to be honored in person with the Brian Piccolo award Tuesday. Concussion-like symptoms? Knee surgery? Family emergency? Dog ate my invitation?
You do this because what appears to be the real reason – Matt Forte’s contract issues with the Bears – looks so small, petty and self-absorbed that you wouldn’t want to wish the public backlash that comes with it on anyone.
But, alas, that appears to be what you’re left with. Forte said his “training schedule” prevented him from attending. Here’s another example of an athlete who can’t get out of his own way. Forte needed to do right by his teammates, by his team and by the spirit of the one of the most beloved players in team history. He needed to show up, one of those basics in life.
Instead, Patrick McCaskey, the team’s senior director of special projects, read a statement by the running back at Halas Hall, and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase made a few comments because, well, who else to wax poetic about Forte’s impact than someone who was hired in January?
The Piccolo award, voted on by Bears players, is given to one rookie and one veteran who, according to the team’s media guide, “best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor’’ of the late running back, who died of cancer in 1970.
You’d think one of those qualities would have nudged Forte and told him to get his butt to Lake Forest for the presentation lest he look very, very selfish.
Just to be perfectly clear, He has a contract. He simply wants that contract extended.
If you think I’m asking too much of Forte or don’t understand the dynamics at work, just know that Brian Urlacher showed up to accept the Piccolo award in 2008 when he was demanding a contract extension. Urlacher didn’t take part in team workouts but he was present for the ceremony.
Now, all of this might seem like very bad timing on Forte’s part, seeing as how the Bears have a new general manager (Ryan Pace) and a new head coach (John Fox). Some of you might think making a bad impression on them at this point would be self-defeating. But missing a voluntary minicamp, which Forte is doing, is a common practice among players who want something done with their contract. They don’t want to get hurt and risk their bargaining power.
Blowing off the Piccolo ceremony sends an entirely different message. It says that money is the only thing that matters and that a silly award, no matter how much it means to the organization, isn’t going to hurry up an extension.
That’s a far cry from the Forte statement that Patrick McCaskey read at the ceremony.
“I’d like to accept the Piccolo award with the utmost respect and humility …’’ and, really, there’s no reason to print the rest. Just words. Forte made a statement, all right.
A player gets into these contract squabbles, gets locked inside his head and gets lost. Forte is lost. That’s the only explanation for being so oblivious to what is good and proper and honorable. Missing a training day in April wouldn’t have killed him.
Bears teammates voted Forte the winner of the award for a reason. They like him. He’s a good teammate. But sometimes you have to swallow your pride and your principles, especially when there is no good reason not to. This was that “sometime.’’
The Piccolo award is a special. It means a lot to the McCaskeys, and it means something to people of a certain vintage. When “Brian’s Song,’’ the TV movie about Piccolo’s cancer and his relationship with Gale Sayers, came out in 1971, it had a teary Chicago, still reeling from his death, at flood stage.
Asked whether he was disappointed that Forte did not show up to accept the award, chairman George McCaskey said: “It’s a personal decision. It’s up to Matt, and I think that decision should be respected. We’d like to get him here for practice, but we know Matt takes very good care of himself.’’
Sorry, that’s too easy. Too easy a pass.
Assuming there were no other circumstances that prevented Forte from making the ceremony, this is either callousness or very bad advice at work. Someone in his camp should have pointed him in the direction of Halas Hall.
He is scheduled to be in town Friday for an autograph-signing appearance. You know, priorities.