Everybody waited for Khalil Mack.
The Bears locker room at Soldier Field emptied out and still two dozen reporters huddled around No. 52’s locker waiting to speak with the Bears’ $141 million bulldozer of a man.
Other locker stalls were clean, the floors bare. It was in stark contrast to how the locker room looks during most post game interviews – littered with pads, cleats and athletic tape. The equipment staff had nothing more to do, except wait for the last players to clear out.
On the far side of the room, kicker Eddy Pineiro picked up his duffel bag and walked out. Cornerback Prince Amukamara dressed after his shower and headed home, too. Mack was the last player in the building following the Bears win over the New York Giants, 19-14, on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Mack disappeared in the fray. He hadn’t recorded a sack in four weeks. He didn’t record a single tackle, pass deflection – nothing – in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The box score completely omitted his name. Khalil Mack simply … vanished.
Or so it seemed. Finally, he stepped out from the showers and made his way to his locker.
“I was in the cold tub,” Mack explained.
The Bears play in four days, on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a quick turnaround and Mack was doing what he can to make sure his body is ready.
“I explained that to the guys,” Mack said. “Look, there’s a cold tub party in there. I was the last one. Sorry I made y’all wait so long.”
Bears fans have been waiting, too, but Mack need not apologize to them. With a $141 million contract comes a certain level of scrutiny. But with two, sometimes three opponents blocking him on almost every play, there’s only so much one man can do.
When the Giants made the mistake of trying to stop him with one man Sunday, Mack reminded everyone what he can do.
“Finally got singled up,” Mack said. “I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity.”
Mack’s strip-sack of New York quarterback Daniel Jones in the third quarter gave the Bears the ball at the New York 3-yard line, swinging the momentum. Bears lineman Nick Williams pounced on the fumble.
Williams might have scored, too, had the scrum for the ball not knocked him over.
“I don’t know how Nick beat me to it,” linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “He’s really mad I knocked him down. I think I tripped him.”
“There was some discussion on what happened,” Mack added with a wry grin.
Sunday was yet another example of how Mack’s effect on a football game doesn’t show up in the box score. He had three tackles and two QB hits, to go along with the sack and forced fumble. Less tangible is the attention he commands, creating holes for the likes of Floyd and Williams.
On the strip-sack, Floyd reached Jones at almost the same instant as Mack. Floyd hit the quarterback four times Sunday. Roy Robertson-Harris hit Jones twice.
“You felt 52 everywhere today,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said “You really did. He was everywhere. You know, when we have that, you can feel our game really elevate, and that’s what it’s all about.”
And when he does have a chance, one-on-one, Mack can change a game.
“They’ve been triple-teaming him, double, chip, everything in the book,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “So you give him a one-on-one, you see what he’s capable of doing. We’re going to put our money on Mack every time one-on-one.”