Photography by David Leslie Anthony | October 27, 2014 | People
With his sights set on the Super Bowl, Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forté races into a new season.
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From Gale Sayers and Walter Payton to Matt Suhey and Neal Anderson—and let’s not forget the legendarily named Bronko Nagurski—the position of running back for the Chicago Bears has been manned by some of the best players in the game’s history. It’s enough to make a young rookie quake in his cleats. But not Matt Forté, who from his first year on the team in 2008 has played like his name belongs alongside the greats. And after just six seasons, it does: Forté is already in second place on the team’s list of all-time leading rushers, behind only the venerable number 34, Walter Payton. But Forté isn’t just fleet of foot; he’s also a devoted husband and father of two as well as a proud Chicagoan, whose Matt Forté Foundation provides scholarships for underprivileged Windy City teens. In an exclusive interview for Michigan Avenue, number 22 recently took time out for a banter-filled conversation with fellow NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew of the Oakland Raiders to talk football, fatherhood, and why Chicago’s fans are the best in the world.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Matthew Garrett Forté, how’ve you been?
Matt Forté: I’m good, Maurice.
Matt, I have a lot of questions here for you, and I’d like you to take them seriously. When did you first know you wanted to play pro football?
When I was 7 years old and I first started playing, after my first practice I said to my dad, “I want to play professional football.” He looked at me like, “Anybody can say that.” But as he watched me grow up, he saw that I was serious about it. I always wanted to be like him. He played in college, so I wanted to pursue football because of him.
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Great answer. And what do you most enjoy about the game?
What I enjoy most is the feeling you get at the end of a successful season, because it shows that all the hard work you did in the off-season paid off. And being able to support my family by being a professional athlete is something I feel privileged to be able to do.
Speaking of hard work, I know you’re working hard now to get ready for the season. What are you most excited about this time?
Getting another shot at trying to make the Super Bowl—and trying to get to the playoffs. Last year we were in the very last game of the regular season, and that ended with a loss to the Packers. Very bad taste in our mouth from that one. But I’m looking forward to getting back on the field, making our way through the NFC North, getting into the playoffs—and hopefully to the Super Bowl.
Speaking of not making the playoffs, what do you love about being a Chicago Bear?
[Laughs] The same thing you loved about being in Jacksonville when you were there.
We went pretty far one time. [Laughs]
Chicago is a great city to play for—and also, when I first got drafted, just looking at the history of the running back position here, with Gale Sayers and Walter Payton and Neal Anderson, being able to follow in those footsteps is cool to do. I just love the city; it’s a great city with great fans.
What makes Chicago football fans different?
They’ve been so [passionate] about the Bears since even before the ’85 Bears [won the Super Bowl]. Tickets have been sold out, I think, since the ’60s. So the stadium’s always been sold out. The fans are always going to be supportive of us no matter what, and they’re always there yelling and screaming, supporting us every game. What sets us apart from the other teams is the history behind our team. Local George Halas started the NFL, so there is history behind this organization, and the fans definitely support that history.
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Right on. Since you were speaking about Gale Sayers and some of the running backs and Bears players, who were some of your favorite players to watch when you were growing up?
Well, Gale Sayers is a little bit before our time, but when I first got drafted I watched some of his stuff. Growing up, I used to watch Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, of course Walter Payton—I saw him while I was growing up, and he’s obviously one of the best.
Who have been your mentors, either on or off the field?
I’d say on the field, I think mostly my coaches. I had a great position coach when I first got here: Coach [Tim] Spencer, who was really good. And also getting coached by Lovie—Lovie Smith has been a mentor to me. Not to mention that Coach Trestman is a really good mentor, and he actually has a mentorship program, where the older guys mentor some of the younger guys.
That’s awesome, man. Since you’ve been here in Chicago, you’ve had great success as one of the Bears. What are the stats that you’re most proud of?
Being able to come in as a rookie and break a couple of records was something I’m proud of. [Editor’s note: In 2008, Forté broke Bears rookie marks for rushing (1,238 yards on 316 carries), yards from scrimmage (1,715), and receptions (63).] And last year was statistically my best year so far, so I’m proud of that as well. But I’ve only had one 200-yard rushing game, which was like in my third year, and I’m pretty proud of that, too. I still have the jersey from that game.
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You should definitely keep that one. What do you think is your greatest strength as a player?
Being versatile—being able to run the ball, coming out of the backfield to catch the ball, being involved in the tackling game, and being smart enough to be back there and block. To be a complete running back—this is something you already know—you have to run, block, and catch; that’s what I take pride in.
That’s awesome. If you weren’t a running back, what position would you want to play?
I would want to play quarterback because—
I already know why. Go ahead and give me the answer.
They get paid the most.
There you go.
They’re the leaders of the team, too.
Every now and then. But they get paid the most. It’s unbelievable how much they get paid to be managers, but it’s all good. Well, let’s start getting serious. We all understand you’re a father. How has being a father to Jaden and Nahla changed you?
When you have children, they come first, and you’re always thinking about them. So when training gets hard or you’re out there on the field or you’re going through something, you can always look to them and find motivation to keep going or make it through something you’re struggling through. Having kids has changed me for the better.
What inspired you to create the Matt Forté Foundation?
I’ve always been inspired by kids. Just being in the spotlight and being an athlete, so many young kids look up to you. [I want to use] this platform to inspire these kids and hopefully change their lives. There are not many positive role models in today’s society—we’re lacking that—and we all know that these kids look up to NFL players. It was easy for me to decide to set up a foundation where I can help children, because the next generation is always going to be coming up, and we need to continue to try to impact them and mentor them. We want to reach kids in high-risk areas who might not have the opportunity to go to college, to raise scholarship money for them to enable them to go for the next level, continue their education, and try to create something of themselves.
What message do you have for the students that your foundation here supports?
The message is that no matter your background or what has happened in your life, if you want something, you have to work hard and go out and get it. My foundation is meant to help them not have to struggle so hard. Not everybody is able to pay for college or get student loans. So we don’t want them to be behind the eight ball when they graduate. We can help them out; we can help them become not just high school graduates but college graduates.
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Matt, you’re known as a sharp-dressed guy. How would you describe your personal style?
I’d have to say it’s second to none. It’s like my football game. I’m pretty versatile out there on the field, and to have style you have to be pretty versatile. You can’t just wear one type of clothing.
Do you have any favorite designers?
I don’t really look at designer names; if it’s something I like, I point it out. I do like Tom Ford. Who else? Giuseppe [Zanotti] has nice shoes. Christian Louboutin. But I like H&M, too.
What’s something that people don’t know about you?
Nothing. I’m an open book.
I like that.
Something that people may not know about me is that I like to hunt and fish, that type of stuff, because I grew up in a region—
That goes into my next question... You’re a self-described country boy from Slidell, Louisiana. How have you enjoyed the city life in Chicago?
I do enjoy the city life. We live in the suburbs—like, 40 minutes away from the city. But it is nice to be in the city and be able to go out to dinner after games and to be down there on the weekends. But the city life is a lot different from where I grew up in a small town. Being from there and through college, I hadn’t been in the big city, but that change came when I got drafted, and I’ve adjusted pretty nicely. I like the city of Chicago. There’s tons of stuff to do—museums, parks, restaurants. It’s a very interesting and fun place to be a part of.
What are some of your favorite places to go in Chicago?
I like the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium—I take the kids there. And you can’t go wrong with a restaurant, really, in Chicago. Chicago Cut Steakhouse is really good.
Where did you take us the last time we went there, when we played you in the game—Fogo de Chão? That was awesome.
You still owe me dinner.
I do, I know. I’ll find a way to get it to you. It’s got to be cheap, though. I don’t have any money. I’ve got four kids, three dogs. We’ve got a lot going on over here, man.
I don’t want to hear it.
No, I’m going to take you to McDonald’s, man. That’s about as good as I can get you. And you can only order off the value menu. Don’t get all crazy and try to order a number 10 or something.
At least Chick-fil-A, man.
That’s too expensive. [Laughs] All right, we have two more questions, and I think these are two of the better questions I have for you here. What’s your favorite memory as a Bear so far?
That’s got to be the first game I got to play in as a rookie. I got the jitters and all that stuff—my first game starting as an NFL player. We played the Indianapolis Colts, and on top of that it was Sunday Night Football, which everybody was watching. It was a rematch of the Super Bowl from ’06, with us versus the Colts and Peyton Manning. We were underdogs and we won that game, and I scored my first touchdown—a 50-yard touchdown—in that game. Nobody was expecting a young rookie from Tulane to be able to come out and do that.
That’s amazing. And my last question: What is your ultimate goal as a player?
To make the Hall of Fame, and to play consistently throughout my entire career. As you know, as soon as a running back turns 28, 29 years old, they start telling him he’s old and run-down. So I just want to continue playing at the top level in the league and keep pushing [toward] that rushing mark that’s been set by many other people. I think you’re approaching the 10,000-yard mark, so, you know, my first task is to push hard to get to that, and then I’ll work from there.
Styling by Lauren Finney and Ge Wang/ESQ Clothing; Grooming by Mr. Robert A. Vaughn; Photography assistance by Beking Joassaint and Joseph Horejs; Video by James Gustin/Figgy.net; Special thanks to Kerry Robinson; Shot on location at Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-335-1234. Located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood and embodying sophisticated luxury, Park Hyatt Chicago allows you to experience the art of fine living. Discover an ambience of contemporary chic, with original works of art, exclusive culinary creations, and dramatic views. Elegantly understated rooms and a staff dedicated to ensuring a remarkable stay make this an exceptional Chicago hotel.
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