Only twelve NFL football teams reach the playoffs, which turned out to be unfortunate for former BYU star running back Harvey Unga and the Chicago Bears.
While eight of those team competed in wildcard games this weekend, the Bears turned out to be watching from home as they were the last team out. They were the only team to have double-digit wins (10-6) to not be part of the postseason.
While Chicago fans endured the anxiety of hoping their team would get in as it headed into the final game of the year against Detroit on Dec. 30, Unga had some anxious moments of his own.
Unga had spent the entire year on the Bears’ practice squad but on the Friday before the game, he showed up to his locker after practice only to find someone waiting.
“It was one of the moments where my heart kind of dropped,” he recalled. “It turns out that the guy who tells us if we are getting cut or not is the same guy who tells us if we are getting activated. When he was by my locker, I didn’t know what to think.”
Unga said he felt like he’d really stepped up the intensity of his performance during the previous couple of weeks, trying to make it somehow onto that active roster. Now there was the fear that it had all been for nothing.
“He asked me if I had talked to my agent, which I hadn’t,” Unga said. “We went upstairs, went into a room, and that was where he told me they were going to bring me up to the 53-man roster. It was definitely a blessing and words can’t explain how grateful I was and how excited I was.”
That hadn’t been the case just moments before, when the ex-Cougar had been wondering if his time with Chicago was coming to an end.
“I was so confused,” Unga said. “I didn’t know what to think or feel. I didn’t know if this was it and I was going home or if I was going to get activated. I didn’t know what to expect. Normally when guys get activated it’s a Monday or Tuesday — and this was a Friday. I was trying to be as optimistic as I could be and fortunately, things worked out.”
That Sunday contest turned into a memorable experience for Unga has he joined the Bears on the sideline in full uniform.
“It was great,” he said. “The feeling of getting ready for a football game is like none other. It’s been years since I’ve actually suited up for a game and had the same butterflies. It was fun and I’m truly grateful for the experience.”
Unga said he realized the key is to just make the best of the opportunities he’s given.
“I never want to take anything for granted,” he said. “It comes and goes and the business of the NFL is so cutthroat that you never know what is going to happen. Just taking in that moment and making it surreal was something I learned from it. You never know whether the next day you’ll be going home or back out on the field.”
As is frequently the case in professional sports, the lack of postseason play led to some dramatic changes for the Chicago organization, including the firing of head coach Lovie Smith.
Unga doesn’t know what that will mean for his future but he just plans on doing the best he can.
“It’s tough to tell right now,” he said. “We come back in April and I’m just going to try to stay in as best shape as I can so I can go out there and show what I can do. I want to make sure that it is hard for them to want to get rid of me. I have to work on my craft and get better. I just want to try to make an impact somehow.”