LT Charles Leno the Bears’ biggest winner of all in division clincher
Even head coach Matt Nagy might not have had this one in his encyclopedia-thick book of gadget plays.
Charles Leno Jr. did — and executed it with precision.
Moments after QB Mitchell Trubisky knelt at the Green Bay 40 to finish off the Bears’ 24-17 win over the Packers, as his teammates celebrated their NFC North championship, Leno, the big offensive lineman, also took a knee. He found vacant grass at midfield and found his girlfriend, Jennifer.
The 6-foot-3, 306-pound starting left tackle then dropped, pulled out a ring and popped the question to Jennifer, who, yes, said yes.
“She was surprised,” Leno said with a smile that was as wide as Jennifer’s when she looked at her sparkly ring in the middle of Soldier Field on Sunday. “She was shaking, crying. If I called her right now, I guarantee you she’s bawling.”
All Bears fans might have wanted to cry happy tears after their team beat the rival Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Standing at his locker stall, Leno noted all the boxes he checked on this day.
“You know what the big one is,” he said, grinning.
Since being selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, Leno had never beaten Green Bay at Soldier Field. The Bears had never enjoyed a winning season, had never won double-digit games in a season and had never won the NFC North.
This year’s Bears are 10-4 and playoff bound with two games left in the regular season.
“I’ve been through some dark days here,” said Leno, a member of last-place Bears teams in each of his first four seasons. “This is one of the greatest days of my life.”
Like Leno’s marriage proposal, the Bears’ division clinching was only a matter time considering their magic number for wrapping up the title coming into Sunday was one.
“It was coming soon,” Leno said of his marriage proposal. “But once I found out we could clinch this week, I had to speed up the process.”
“No one had a clue,” RT Bobby Massie said. “That’s a great moment for him and his now fiancee. You can’t re-create that. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Luckily for Leno, the first play from scrimmage wasn’t an omen. He was flagged for a false start.
“I was a little bit amped up,” Leno said with a laugh.
Truth is, the Bears have been excited for a while. Nagy brought in a fresh and exciting offense, general manager Ryan Pace traded for one of the game’s best defensive players in Khalil Mack, and the Bears emerged as one of the league’s biggest surprises.
“It goes back to OTAs,” Leno said. “We believe in ourselves. We believe in everything we’ve been doing. We put in the work. This team is resilient. I love going to work with these guys every day.”
Sunday was a special day for more than Leno and his new fiancee.
“It’s been night and day from Day 1 when I got here to today,” said Massie, who signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2016. “Hats off to everyone in this organization. It’s been a complete culture change here. We set a goal in the offseason, and this is step one of our goal. We still got places we want to go, so we’re going to enjoy this tonight, and we’re going to get back to work this week.”
The goal remains a ring. A Super Bowl ring, that is.
“I had (the ring) in my sock,” Leno told a reporter. “I’m kidding.”