When Patrick Scales is recognized in public, his wife rolls her eyes.
Luckily for her, it doesn't happen that often. The last time Scales was outed in public as the Bears long snapper was in 2016. The couple was at Midway Airport getting ready for a trip. Scales' wife went to grab something to drink and when she came back Scales was in the company of two young Bears fans that spotted him.
"Don't talk to him too long," his wife warned the fans according to Scales. "You'll blow his head up."
Fortunately for her, a big head isn't something she has to worry about with Scales. Anonymity is the goal for the long snapper.
"If you don't know me that's a good thing," Scales said. "I can take my family out to dinner and nobody blinks an eye at us. I don't mind being unnoticed. I'm perfectly fine with that."
Do your job, and go unnoticed. Make a mistake, and suddenly you're outed. That's the role of a long snapper.
It's one of the most niche positions in all of sports, and many who claim its title originally saw it as another path to getting on the field.
Scales wasn't always just a long snapper. He grew up playing tight end, but when he was younger, his brother taught him how to long snap.
"It was definitely a way to break in and get on the field early," Scales said. "There were a lot of tight ends ahead of me. I just wanted to play football and long snapping is a way to do that."
His ability to play both tight end and long snapper helped him walk on to play college football at Utah State. There he met Brandon Howard, a graduate assistant who played as a long snapper at East Carolina University. Howard — who is currently an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ole Miss — never had a chance to play after college, but in Scales he saw something special, and he took the young long snapper under his wing.
"It was something that he showed an affinity for," Howard recalls. "I think it's what allowed him to play college football. It's one of those things where you use the talents that you have to put yourself in a position to be successful and that's what he did."
Scales spent time with Howard perfecting the long snap, and before his junior season, his head coach called him into his office and awarded him a scholarship.
"It was awesome because I worked my ass off to put in the work to show the coaches that I'm serious about what I do," Scales said. "It was just nice to get rewarded for that.
Scales played his final two years on scholarship before graduating.
After finishing up at Utah State, Scales signed with the Baltimore Ravens after going undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.
He was released before the regular season, and so began a long journey to making an NFL roster. Between July 2011 and April 2014, Scales was signed and released by four different teams.
"An emotional roller coaster," Scales said looking back on trying to make a roster. "Just highs and lows. The highs of getting picked, working, trying to make the squad, and then they bring you in and they cut you, and you're just at the bottom."
While Scales fought to find a job in the NFL, he was forced to pick up other jobs to bring in an income. One year he worked for Verizon selling phones. Another year he worked for Cabela's in their camping department, and later he worked for a family friend's lighting technology company at a warehouse in Dallas.
Finally, in mid-December of 2014, the Ravens, the team that originally signed him, reached out. Their long snapper Kevin McDermott had suffered an elbow injury and they needed a replacement. Scales signed with Baltimore on Dec. 18. Three days later he made his NFL debut in a game against Houston.
"It felt surreal," Scales said. "I remember just at one point in the game just sitting on the bench and staring up at the crowd and the fans and thinking like, 'I was at work on Tuesday in a warehouse, and I'm now playing football in front a couple thousand people here.' "
Scales played in the final two games, but he was released again after the season.
Nearly a year later, three quarters through the 2015 season, the Bears signed Scales and he played in the final five games of the season. He re-signed with Chicago in 2016 and played his first full NFL season, playing in all 16 games.
After missing the entire 2017 with an ACL injury, Scales re-signed a one-year contract with the Bears during this past offseason.
Being a long snapper means being ready to go throughout the game. Scales may not get many snaps, but when he is called on, perfection is expected.
To prepare for his reps, he's developed a routine.
When the Bears offense gets the ball, he fires off two long snaps on the sideline to punter Pat O'Donnell, who also serves as the team's holder. As soon as the offense crosses the 35-yard line, Scales signals O'Donnell and they start practicing shorter snaps, readying for a potential field goal or extra point scenario. When third down hits, the duo begins migrating toward the field and waits for a potential fourth-down field goal call.
Despite the developed routine, no long snap is the same. Scales' job is to quarterback the offense during punt, field goal and extra point plays, and each scenario brings its own challenges.
On a punt, Scales relays the opponent's rush team formation to the other linemen, then on his signal, he fires back a snap 14 yards to the waiting hands of O'Donnell.
On field goals and extra points, Scales snaps the ball back eight yards to O'Donnell who holds the ball in place for kicker Cody Parkey. Extra points are the more challenging of the two, though, because it's on Scales to wrangle up a few 300-pound linemen who often are preoccupied celebrating the recently scored touchdown.
"They'll be celebrating with everyone, and I'm like, 'Hey come on, come on. Let's go,' " Scales said. "So I get them set up, and I just wait for Cody to start taking his steps, and I time it up and tell everyone to get down and wait for the signal and snap for the field goal."
When he does get on the field, the adrenaline hits fast. But the job also requires long stretches between snaps. Scales has figured out a routine for that, too: Spark.
"Spark is an energy supplement," Scales explains as if the spokesperson for the company. "You might only get four snaps during the game, in between snaps it could be a long time, so I don't want to sit there and get the energy low, so you dial up a couple of Sparks during the game, and you're just amped and ready to go when it's your time."
Scales does three total: one before the game, one during the first half, and one in the second. Always, mango strawberry flavor.
Often in the Bears' biggest moments, all eyes are on Scales — even if most fans don't know who's in the No. 48 jersey.
Regardless of the moment though, Scales never lets it get too big.
"I just try to stay as calm as can be on the sideline and just focus on my job," he said. "I definitely don't tell myself, "Don't screw up,' because that's when you do screw up. I just go over there and focus and do my job."
In Week 3, trailing the Cardinals late, Scales delivered the snap that produced the late-third quarter field goal to pull the Bears within one point. Later, with less than five minutes in the game, he did it again, rocketing a strike back to O'Donnell, who planted the ball for Parkey to kick the eventual game-winner, edging Arizona 16-14.
"If it's a big moment, it's definitely in the back of your mind," Scales said. "You try not to let it affect you though, and I just tell myself it's just another field goal."
For those that know him best, it should come as no surprise that Scales is finding success at the highest level, in one of the hardest jobs to land in sports. Unlike other positions on an NFL roster, teams don't list a second-string long snapper. There's only one.
"After working with Patrick for a couple of years, I was like there are only 32 jobs, but I'll tell you what, this kid has the goods," Howard recalls of his days working with Scales in college. "It's been awesome to see him fulfill that dream."
Scales is still living that dream, and despite the success, he's plenty happy remaining anonymous in the shadows.
Plus, his wife makes sure it's that way.
"You're just like a guy," Scales said she has reminded him. " 'Not that you're not special. But you're just the long snapper.' "
It's the type of grounded mentality Scales would have regardless. He knows how hard he's worked to get here and doesn't planning on letting up anytime soon.
"I try to be the happiest guy on the field because I know what it's like not to be in the building and playing football," Scales said. "So I don't take any days for granted."