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Emma: Matt Forte Exemplified Pure Class, Dedication During Bears Career

By Chris Emma--

(CBS) The name Matt Forte will forever live in Bears history alongside those of Walter Payton and Gale Sayers. Such a thought is something for which Forte holds great pride. He earned it.

Forte's football story is one of hard work. He wasn't the fastest or most powerful running back during his eight seasons with the Bears, but he sure was one of the best. Chicago became enamored with its shining star because of his dedication to the game and his team.

On Friday, Chicago and Forte bid farewell to each other. Bears general manager Ryan Pace made the decision that he won't re-sign the 30-year-old Forte this offseason, ending his exceptional career with the franchise. Forte recorded 8,602 rushing yards and 12,718 all-purpose yards, both marks second to only to Payton.

Despite the accolades and effort, Forte was never appreciated in the manner that he deserved. That never seemed to bother him. He was just honored to play for the Bears.

"Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end," Forte said of his departure. "I was informed earlier this week from the GM that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency. I will remain forever grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history. My only regret is not being able to win a Lombardi trophy for the best fans in all of sports. I'm excited about the next chapter of my NFL career. But, Chicago will always be home. God Bless and Bear Down!"

Through constant change around Halas Hall -- new coaches, coordinators and teammates each season -- Forte was ever consistent. Without Forte, where would the Bears have been?

Because of this, thoughts on Forte are a bit marred. He was the best offensive player on offenses that were mostly bad, bringing competence to the entire unit, just because he could. Forte was able to find the seam and get something out of nothing. He had quick moves to make defenders miss and the ability to change a game.

Forte said that his lone regret was not winning a Super Bowl in Chicago, something that's only been accomplished once, 30 years ago. Forte deserved better teams and championship chances, which make his Bears career feel incomplete. More so, he has several good years of football left in the tank -- hoping to play at least two, maybe four more years in the NFL. He can go pursue a championship elsewhere.

The age of 30 is supposed to make the end of a running back's shelf life. Forte defied that by keeping himself in outstanding condition.

Many Bears fans want a staple of their team to stay around, but Pace has other plans, and those should be trusted. He's the bright football boss who's taking the franchise in a new direction. Pace believed it was time for Forte to move on.

"We recently met with Matt to inform him we will not extend a contract offer for the 2016 season," Pace said in a statement. "These decisions are never easy, especially given what Matt has meant to our team and community. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Matt is one of the all-time great Bears and did an excellent job for us on and off the field last season. He was a tremendous teammate. We thank him for his professionalism and wish him the very best as he continues his career."

Some of the lasting memories of Forte's career should be with the manner of which he transitioned through the inevitable. He took aside young running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey to serve as a mentor. He exemplified true professionalism during what seemed all along to be his final season in Chicago.

When Forte cleaned out his locker at Halas Hall the day after another losing season came to an end, only one item remained. It was a navy blue cutoff T-shirt, one that he poured everything into. On the back was his No. 22 and a word that stood for all Forte represents.

Workhorse.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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