LAKE FOREST | I'm often asked what's the toughest interview I've ever had to do.
It's an empty locker, hands down.
There were plenty of those Monday at Halas Hall, where Bad Santa had left enough coal to warm the Pentagon after the Bears' crushing 23-20 overtime loss Sunday to the wretched Vikings.
Monday was player meetings, no practice, and the locker room was open to media from 1 p.m. to 1:30. Only tackle Jay Ratliff, long snapper Patrick Mannelly and cornerback Zack Bowman made themselves available.
We're used to playing hide and seek with these Bears when things aren't going right, which has been the case this season — losing six of their last nine games and playoff hopes fading like water colors.
Coach Marc Trestman's decision to send Robbie Gould out for a 47-yard field goal on second down in the OT continued picking up steam Monday, with angry fans still seeing red and puzzled media scratching its heads.
Gould's kick sailed wide right and Minnesota responded with the game-winning drive.
At 1:30 Monday, Gould approached his locker but Bears media relations immediately announced the dressing room had closed and proceeded to shoo us out.
I swear I heard chuckling in one of the empty lockers.
"Robbie's a professional. That's a tough situation," Mannelly had said earlier. "That's what kickers are paid to do — to make kicks. They're not going to make 'em all. Unfortunately, he didn't make that one.
"But we know the next one he's going to make. He's done that his whole career. Yeah, he's doing OK."
Long snappers seldom get any pub unless they blow a game. It's not a sexy position but the Bears need a voice, a leader at the moment, to keep the younger players pulling that rope in the same direction.
The Bears' undisputed "leaders" are all sidelined.
Linebacker Lance Briggs is still on the mend with his cracked shoulder. Cornerback Charles Tillman has a torn triceps and is lost for the season. Quarterback Jay Cutler is game-to-game with his high ankle sprain.
Brian Urlacher, well, no use going there again.
Patrick Mannelly is a logical pick to rally the troops during this time of gloom and doom.
"It's our job as older guys to mention to the younger guys that right now, we have to play at our best," Mannelly agreed. "December is when you put yourself in position to make a playoff push.
"Unfortunately, we're not in control of our own destiny, so it's our job to let the younger guys know we have to buckle down and make that extra effort."
But will they listen? Do they care anymore at 6-6? And will they bust their behinds if they're not in management's plans for 2014-15?
"It's going to be tough but we have to lead by example," Mannelly said. "Show up early in the weight room. Take extra notes. Let them know how important these remaining games are by our actions."
He has played 243 games — the most in Bears history — and is captain of the special teams squad. That should add to Mannelly's credibility among young teammates.
Bottom line: Of the NFL's 32 teams, only 13 have winning records. A handful remain in the wildcard hunt with losing records.
The Bears must win out to have a very slim chance.
If Mannelly can sell that, he should run for governor.