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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Pro Bowl honors bittersweet for Bears

By Michael C. Wright

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jubilant from news of being named to his first Pro Bowl, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman just as quickly morphed into crisis-control mode.

He’d just told his oldest daughter, Talya, of the pending trip to Hawaii that comes with being named to the league’s annual All-Star game. She wasn’t pleased.

“She was like, ‘I don’t want to go to Hawaii. They’ve got too many volcanoes; there’s hot lava out there,’” Tillman said, drawing laughter. “She saw something on one of these cartoon shows that had volcanoes. I kind of had to explain to her that it was a cartoon.”

Charles Tillman
Charles Tillman made two interceptons and forced three fumbles this season.
Humorous moments aside, though, Tillman and special-teams ace Corey Graham -- two of the club’s three first-time Pro Bowlers -- discussed on Wednesday how finally receiving their well-deserved recognition rings somewhat hollow, considering the Bears are currently 7-8 and out of the postseason for the fourth time in fifth years.

Tillman said the Pro Bowl is “something you should savor,” but “it definitely would’ve been nice to make the Pro Bowl -- slash -- play in some postseason games.” Graham said the team’s situation “takes away some of the joy,” adding that “if I can get us the opportunity to play in the playoffs, we’d rather have that than the Pro Bowl.”

Running back Matt Forte is the club's third first-time Pro Bowler, but was placed on the injured reserve on Tuesday, and had already gone home by the time the Bears held media availability in the locker room.

A ninth-year veteran, Tillman became the team’s first cornerback to make the Pro Bowl since 2005, after registering a career-high 107 tackles. The team’s leader in pass breakups (11), Tillman is also tied for the team high in forced fumbles (3), and fumble recoveries.

Tillman has also picked off two passes in 2011, returning one for a touchdown and leads all defensive backs in forced fumbles (27) since entering the NFL in 2003. Tillman’s 29 INTs rank him fourth overall in the NFL since 2003.

“It’s really not about recognition,” Tillman said. “I’m more thankful my peers and the coaches got me in, or voted me in. I don’t think it’s really about recognition, but I do recognize that they think I’m a good player. That means a lot. It makes me feel good.”

Tillman doesn’t consider this season to be the best of his career, but also doesn’t lament not making the Pro Bowl in previous years.

“I guess it just wasn’t my time. There were obviously other corners that were doing bigger and better things than me in the past,” Tillman said. “But everything happens for a reason. They called me this year. I got in. So I’m grateful for the honor.”

Bears coach Lovie Smith and special-teams coach Dave Toub singled out Graham last year for his play on special teams, but the fifth-year player didn’t receive the honor then. Graham leads the Bears with 20 special-teams tackles and is second in the league in that category (74 tackles) since entering the league in 2007.

Graham received the seemingly overdue news Tuesday from Toub.

“It’s very exciting to be honest with you. It’s something I’ve been striving for the last couple of years,” Graham said. “It’s good to finally make it and get a chance to play in it. Being here for Chicago, playing special teams, it means a lot, and we put a lot into it. It’s good to see it pay off. It’s like a dream come true for me.”