The Bears-Browns final preseason game made all the difference for Tyler Clutts last year.
Clutts was a Browns fullback on the roster bubble who played special teams in that game. He was cut by the Browns and signed to their practice squad. But, as allowed by NFL rules, the Bears signed him off the Browns practice squad onto their 53-man roster.
Clutts, who didn't join the team until Wednesday of Week 1, quickly made an impact in the season-opener against the Falcons -- besides stellar play on special teams, he had key blocks on a 56-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard catch by Devin Hester and also blocked on Jay Cutler's one-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth in the Bears' 30-12 victory. That was the start of a productive rookie season in the NFL.
That's why players go all out in the final preseason game regardless of their roster status -- the whole NFL is watching.
''Looking back on it, that was probably the biggest game of my entire football career,'' said Clutts, who was called for an illegal block on a punt return in the game -- a call he disputed. ''I went into the [preseason finale] feeling really good about my position in Cleveland. But the team had other plans. Luckily I played well enough for Chicago to sign me.''
Clutts said he thought he had made the Browns' 53-man roster when he attended a team meeting on the Monday before the season opener. But ''at the last minute they made a decision to go a different way.
''It was stressful, because I wanted to play. I was an older rookie -- 26 years old, turning 27 that season. It was important for me to play.''
He wasn't disappointed for long. The Bears called on Tuesday and offered hi a spot on their active roster (According to NFL rules, players claimed off the practice squad by other teams must be put on the claiming team's 53-man roster.) The Browns offered Clutts more money, but he chose to sign with the Bears.
''It was 1 o'clock and I had 30 minutes to make a decision. They said we want to sign you. Cleveland had made an offer to try and keep me. It was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up -- the city of Cjhicago, the tradition ... it was something I felt I needed to be in.
''And I needed to play. I'm not in this for the money. I don't want to sit on the sideline and collect a check. I want to be involved and I want to play.''
Clutts likely is back in a similar situation this season. He has obvious value to the Bears. But his fullback position doesn't really exist in Mike Tice's offense. The "H-back" type of tight end has more of the blocking responsibilities. So all he can do is play hard and hope for the best. As he knows, you never know who will notice.