LAKE FOREST – Six years, 10 months, 27 days.
Perhaps you prefer to break it down by hours: 60,528.
Or minutes: 3,631,680.
Or seconds: 217,900,800.
That’s how much time has passed since the Bears marched all the way to Super Bowl XLI. Since then, every season except for one has ended just like it did Monday, with somber players cleaning out their lockers before the start of the playoffs.
For most of us, six years represents an extended blink on the scale of time.
In the NFL, it’s an eternity.
As of now, a half-dozen Bears players remain from the 2006 Super Bowl squad: Lance Briggs, Roberto Garza, Devin Hester, Charles Tillman, Robbie Gould and Patrick Mannelly.
A few months from now, how many will remain?
Two? Maybe three?
That thought kept resurfacing as the Bears filed into the locker room Monday at Halas Hall before parting ways for a long winter. Players packed boxes with personal items, tossed old shoes into a bin, and signed out with the equipment manager.
It’s become a common scene as other teams prepare for promise-filled playoff runs. Yes, the Bears won a playoff game in 2010, but their offseason has started early in six of the past seven seasons as they have failed to reach the postseason.
Time is ticking fast.
Most of the Super Bowl alums might soon be gone.
Take Garza, the veteran guard-turned-center who will turn 35 in March. His contract is up, and it’s possible that the Bears will look to sign a younger player.
“I’m going to definitely want to come back,” Garza said. “I feel like I can still play.”
Or take Tillman, the greatest cornerback in the 93-year history of the franchise. Tillman has been a takeaway machine since he arrived in 2003, but he will turn 33 in March and is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Could Tillman be wearing another jersey come next fall?
“I have some options,” Tillman said. “I have some thoughts. I have some decisions that I have to make [about] what's best for myself and my family and my football career.”
Or take Hester, the greatest kick returner in the history of the NFL. Hester will be a free agent and would like to return to the Bears, but how much financial flexibility might the team have for an aging player whose role is limited to special teams?
“I really want to know right away,” said Hester, 31. “I am the type of guy, I don’t want to go through the whole offseason not knowing where I am going to be at.
“I want to retire as a Bear. I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back. So, who knows?”
The same holds true for Mannelly, a precise but relatively pricey long snapper who will turn 39 in April. Equally murky is what the future holds for Briggs, 33, who never seemed to embrace the post-Lovie Smith, post-Brian Urlacher era this season. Briggs is under contract, but who’s to say the Bears won’t make some calls to test his market value?
That leaves Gould, who re-signed with the Bears last week, as the lone bridge from the Super Bowl team who is certain to return.
Amid so much uncertainty, Tillman and his fellow Super Bowl veterans are ready to accept whatever comes next in their football careers.
“I think I'm OK with it,” Tillman said. “I think it's the first time in my life that I've had to make decisions like this. …
“I'm not stressing. I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good.”
Whatever happens, the group seems to have no hard feelings.
“It’s the start of something really special here,” Garza said. “And hopefully I continue to be a part of it.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @tcmusick.