Kahlil Bell's name and number were missing from the team flipchart that is used in the press box on game day. That's one disadvantage that comes from getting transferred from the practice squad to the 53-man roster late in the week, as Bell was on Friday to replace an injured Garrett Wolfe.
But from now on, most of the fans and media that were on hand Sunday night will know exactly who Bell is and what he's capable of after watching him execute a dramatic 72-yard run on his first NFL carry.
"It was exciting and fun," Bell said in the locker room after the game. "That's something I hope to build on in the future."
Bell was so new to the Soldier Field locker room on game day that he admitted to having some trouble locating his designated spot, which is at the far end of the locker area. If the sizable number of reporters waiting for him after the game was any indication of things to come, Bell can find his cubby from now on by looking for the crush of recorders, lights and cameras.
His 72-yard scamper was the longest first-career carry in the league since Alan Ameche went 79 yards for the Baltimore Colts in 1955, and it was the longest run for the Bears since Neal Anderson went 73 yards against the Green Bay Packers in 1989.
Bell had a total of four rushes for 81 yards, a record-setting rookie performance, but what he seemed most excited about was that his father was in town to watch the game.
"It was great that he was able to be here tonight," said Bell. "He's right outside in the tunnel area waiting for me now, and he's wearing my old UCLA practice sweats. That was for good luck. Guess it worked."
Bell was initially an undrafted free agent of the rival Vikings but got cut early in training camp. He was subsequently picked up by the Bears and placed on the practice squad after Kevin Jones was lost for the season to an ankle injury in the preseason finale.
When asked if it was difficult to make the transition from Minnesota to Chicago, Bell laughed and shook his head.
"No, I was so new that nothing had really registered with me yet in terms of how to play the game of professional football," he said. "I really mark the beginning of my learning period from the time I joined this team."
Second-year wide receiver Earl Bennett knows how difficult it is to suddenly step into a pivotal role with a team you've only watched from the sideline, as Bennett himself spent much of his rookie year last season waiting and hoping for a chance to get into a game.
"Your adrenaline is pumping when you get that call," Bennett said. "But then all of your practice, your hard work and your training takes over, and you function almost immediately as a professional. Really, an opportunity like that is what you've waited for all of your life. And when you do get into a game and can make an impact, well, it just doesn't get better than that. I can't speak for Kahlil, but I'm guessing that his experience was pretty similar to mine. I'm happy that it turned out that way for him. What a beginning to his career."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler characterized Bell as a player that "had been running since he got here," a "downhill guy" and as someone "with a chip on his shoulder who will do everything he can to prove himself."
Bell agreed with that assessment.
"I worked hard at UCLA," he said. "I plan to keep working hard here. I know that nothing comes easy, and that is especially true in the NFL. What happened tonight is something I can expand on in the future, but the most important thing is the team as a whole. I can't be too happy, as we didn't get the win tonight. When I can contribute to a victory, that's when I'll really be celebrating."
With the Bears' window of opportunity to get into the playoffs rapidly closing at 4-6, Bell is hoping that the chance to prove himself again will come sooner rather than later.
"I can't speak about the offense as a whole," Bell said. "I can only address the part I play in that system. I am hoping that the coaches will see me as a contributor, as a player who wants to win and never gives up. This is my chance, and I hope I'll be able to maximize the opportunity for the good of this team."
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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for eight years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
Bell Introduces Himself with Style
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