By Caleb Hanie
I came out of Colorado State in 2008 with an undrafted free agent contract to the Chicago Bears. I felt very blessed to be given an opportunity to practice at that level and essentially be given a tryout to make an NFL team. I had a couple of other teams who called on Draft Day asking me to come. One of which was my hometown team and childhood favorite, the Dallas Cowboys. The Bears opportunity was just better. They had two veteran quarterbacks who were battling for the starting job, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. My agent, myself and my family all felt that the Bears would be moving on from one of those quarterbacks soon and would be a better opportunity for me to make a team. The Bears didn’t speak with extreme confidence on their QB situation, and told me that they were potentially going to keep 3 QB’s knowing that one of those guys might be out the door soon. There was one ‘kicker’ however. They told me that they were going to sign another free agent rookie QB and that both of us would compete for the job. You always want to be “the guy”, but if I was going to have to compete with someone, it might as well be another rookie. So off to Chicago I went.
Throughout the offseason workouts, mini-camps, OTA’s and Training Camp the rookies were in their own locker room we called “the dungeon”. It was in the basement of the ancient Halas Hall. A side note here, one thing I noticed immediately upon entering the Bears’ locker room is that it wasn’t near as nice as Colorado State’s locker room or most collegiate locker rooms for that matter. This always blew my mind. The dungeon was even worse. Just metal lockers with stools in front of them.
This was a very ambiguous time for me. Rarely did I have a good feel on where I stood in the battle against fellow rookie Nick Hill, from Southern Illinois, or on the team’s thoughts on keeping 3 quarterbacks. It was one of those situations where you just had to keep showing up, trying your best, and letting the chips fall where they may. All Spring I felt as though I had the upper hand on the rookie QB battle, but again nothing was certain. We head into training camp, again with no idea of the plan. After the first week or two of practices, I heard a knock at my door. It was Nick Hill. He had his suitcase in his hand and said he came to tell me goodbye because he’d been cut. It was a bittersweet moment because Nick was an awesome dude, but I also wanted to jump for joy because I had won….at least half the battle. Looking back on this experience, I find it odd that I found out in that way. It wasn’t a meeting with the QB coach, or OC or head coach…it was from my opponent telling me he had been released. The second half of my training camp battle was still very uncertain as we hadn’t even played a game yet.
My four preseason games were typical of a rookie, up and down. The offensive system is fast and complex compared to a college game. I made my share of mistakes, but I had some great moments. I excelled in the 2-minute drill, showed good mobility, and was extremely accurate that preseason. I think my moxie was what impressed most people, which is hard to measure until you get in the game. When it came to final cuts, I was hoping that I did enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. This is always a trying time for players because everyone puts in a ton of work and this is their childhood dream. One phone call telling you you’ve been released is the difference in making it and getting paid, (which for me was $375k) and not making it and getting absolutely nothing but a cool story for the grandkids. I hunkered down in my hotel room all weekend hoping the phone didn’t ring and playing “GM” role guessing who would be kept and who would be released. The cut period came and went when I finally got any sort of call. It was Lovie Smith saying he rarely made these types of calls but wanted to congratulate me on becoming a Chicago Bear. I was ecstatic! It finally felt official when I arrived at the Bears’ facility and went into the “big boy” locker room and saw my nameplate on a locker next to Grossman and Orton…a dream come true. This experience taught me many things, but I think the most important was how to thrive in ambiguity.