It was an odd "Victory Monday" at Halas Hall--the players spent the morning cleaning out their lockers and saying goodbye. They also had a team meeting, in which the recently fired Lovie Smith addressed them for a final time.
RedEye spoke with five players about the trip back to Chicago from Detroit, and their final thoughts on the 2012 season.
COREY WOOTTON: Guys were very optimistic that the Packers would beat the Vikings. They were playing for the first-round bye, so we knew they were putting their best foot forward. We were all watching it on our phones, and on the radio.
BLAKE COSTANZO: Obviously we were all tuned in. Even in the locker room, they had it on TV. And then when we were on the plane, we were listening to it all static-y, going in and out. We were all going crazy rooting for Green Bay.
NATE COLLINS: It was nerve-racking. It's tough to be depending on someone else to give us a chance for the postseason. Everyone's on the phone, updating, checking. And we're in the middle of travel, so when we got on the plane they put it on the radio for us.
AMOBI OKOYE: It was just a lot of anticipation. Everybody was trying to get the latest because the radios were slow, the mobile apps were slow, and so obviously we just got everything from family and friends.
JOE ANDERSON: (Sighs.) We were on the edge of our seats. We were hoping things could turn out in our favor, but the Vikings needed to win too. Those guys played their heart out.
WOOTTON: We were all saying, "Rodgers, he's gonna get them back," but then Adrian Peterson put the team on his back and had some great runs. It was basically just a chip-shot field goal. It was tough.
What was that bus ride like after that?
COSTANZO: Just quiet, man. Kind of somber, knowing that the season's over. It's part of life. We were trying to just thank each other for playing with each other. That's basically how it went.
COLLINS: You're cheering for your division rivals to win a game for you, a game that you think they're gonna win, and it turns out they don't win. It was a shitty way to end the season. The first thing we had to do was get a win so that we even had a chance. (Pauses.) It just didn't turn out the way we all wanted to.
WOOTTON: We can't let it come down to needing someone else to win. One of the games out of there that we lost, we have to find a way to win. And then we wouldn't have been in that situation.
Give me your thoughts on Lovie Smith.
COSTANZO: Just a good man. I really look up to him a lot. He reminds me of my father. Just a stand-up, class guy, and way better of a person than even a coach. He treated people as people, you know? Not just players.
OKOYE: (Choking back tears) Unfair. Unfair. I get it. It's the business aspect of the game. I get it man, but a lot of players don't get it when it comes to this world. But I get it.
Explain "unfair" to me.
OKOYE: Unfair in the sense of I think he's been very productive. He's won games. I mean (laughs) we were two touchdowns away from breaking a record, a defensive record, you know? We led the league in takeaways. But, I don't know … (trails off)
COLLINS: One of the biggest things I respect about Lovie is that he always treated all of us with respect and treated us like men. He wasn't a guy who raised his voice too much. He just felt you should be able to talk about everything without getting frustrated or losing your temper, and I think as a whole, everyone respected that. I'm a big believer in that.
OKOYE: [In the final team meeting], he just thanked us for the time, thanked us for everything we've done. Talked about the game. And just kept on thanking us. And everybody thanked him after.
COLLINS: Lovie was a guy who took a chance on me. Obviously I had a couple incidents in the offseason and I got let go in Jacksonville. And Lovie, I'll never forget the day he brought me in here. He was just like, "The past is the past. I want you on this team because of the way you work and the way you play." And I always respected that. It's a big thing that he even took a chance on me, and I just want to say thank you.
So, final thoughts on your 2012 season?
COSTANZO: Loved playing here. It was an honor, a privilege, and I can't wait to play here next year.
WOOTTON: I thought personally it was a pretty good year for me. I established myself a little bit. Unfortunately we didn't make the playoffs, so that's what it comes down to. When you don't make the playoffs, it's not really a successful season.
COLLINS: Next season starts basically today. The offseason. Keep my body in shape, and just come back ready to work for whatever coach they bring in here.
ANDERSON: Can't settle. We did good, but there's always room for improvement. I'm not going to get comfortable with what I did this year. I'm just going to be thankful for the opportunity I was given to open up more opportunities for myself. Just going to come back harder next season.
OKOYE: 2013 can't come any quicker. (laughs.)
Jack M Silverstein covers the Bears for RedEye.
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