It was a full week before Kordell Stewart's return to Colorado, and already his phones were going crazy, which he enthusiastically embraced.
Come on, he said, how could he not appreciate the drive northwest, from Denver to Boulder, where so many precious memories reside? The majestic mountains, the clean, fresh air, etc.
"Well, I guess since all the transplants have arrived, the air is a little more polluted," he said.
But while reality often bites, Stewart said he won't let it, whether in the form of air quality or career status, knock him too far off-kilter. Unless there is an injury to starting quarterback Chris Chandler, Stewart's role for the Chicago Bears in Sunday's game against the Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High likely will be ceremonial -- something Stewart could not have expected eight months ago, when he was a free agent and signed a two-year contract with the team.
"I've always said, and it's the truth, that in life, it's always about trying to get to the right situation, being where you can have your best opportunity to succeed," he said. "And right now, it's not like that for me.
"It's not like that at all, not even close."
There have been few opportunities to link the words "Bears" and "successful" this season, particularly when the team has the football. Chicago (3-7) is last in the NFL in total offense, averaging 256 yards a game. Its 172 points scored is 28th in the league.
Stewart was the Bears' starter in the first five games, in which he completed 75-of-144 passes for 745 yards. He threw four touchdowns, but had seven interceptions and an anemic 56.0 quarterback rating. Even more damaging was that the Bears were 1-4, outscored by an average of 30-16.
In the third game of the season, against the Oakland Raiders -- the Bears' only victory in the five-game span -- Stewart said he hurt the quadriceps muscle in his left leg. He played against New Orleans the next week, but knew the pain was too much to bear.
"I was scrambling on the left side of the field, and I couldn't get away from [defensive tackle] Kenny Smith -- and he had just come off surgery," Stewart said. "So I knew something was wrong."
The Bears started Chandler in the next game, a 24-17 loss at Seattle. The next two weeks, Chicago scored 24 points against Detroit, then 20 vs. San Diego, winning both games.
Although the offense has since returned to its morass, totaling 440 yards and 31 points in losses to Detroit and St. Louis, and Stewart says he's now completely healthy, the Bears are sticking with Chandler.
"We went with Kordell for the first five games, and certainly our record after that wasn't entirely his fault," coach Dick Jauron said. "But clearly the quarterback position is the most visible on your team, and we just felt like we needed to change some things and that was one of the changes we made.
"Since Chris has been in there, he has played pretty well. I'd say the last two weeks he hasn't been as accurate as he normally is. That's hurt us a little bit. I have a lot of faith in both of them, [but] right now Chris is our No. 1."
Stewart, for the most part, has adhered to the company line, trying not to cause distractions, but admits: "It's hard just watching, because I know I'm a much better player than it has appeared. I've proven myself; I'm still here, my body's fresh, I feel good about myself.