BOURBONNAIS – The buzz around and about the Bears all across the Windy City and beyond has been indisputable for months now.
Saturday, Day Three of the team’s 2019 training camp in Bourbonnais, it became a full roar.
Bears fans of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and genders descended upon Olivet Nazarene University in numbers that I’ve never seen before, and not a one was there because of the ’85 Bears, Ditka, Lovie’s boys or any of the Hall of Famers or special moments that have made this team arguably the most storied franchise in NFL history.
No, Chicago and football fans everywhere have gone hog wild for these boys of this summer, this 2019 Bears team that has expectations higher among its fans than at any time since 1986.
And the players and their coach clearly took notice.
We get to meet with Matt Nagy after every practice, and Saturday before he offered any opening comments on his team, he had this to say.
“Getting to the football side, I think what we just experienced as a team, as players and coaches, coming out to that sea of fans and everybody out there, I don’t even know how to put it into words how much that means to us on just who our fans are, what our city is all about, it literally gives you goose bumps.
“While we are on the golf cart just coming to practice and you see everybody just down the sidewalk with all their jerseys on, they’re just so excited to get this thing going again, so I just want to say thank you from our players and our coaches to this whole city, to all of our fans, to everybody here that shows support.
“And I’m sorry if we didn’t get everybody with autographs, but we do appreciate it and we make it known to our players what it means. And so thank you!”
I’ve been on this beat a long time and I’ve heard more than my share of coach-speak, but I can tell you without reservation Nagy was genuine, and even I felt a touch emotional as he delivered those thoughts.
This is second-year inside linebacker Roquan Smith’s first camp Bourbonnais — after he missed all of last year in to a contract holdout — and he was a bit taken aback by it all.
“I haven’t had a training camp since 2017 in college. So, my first pro training camp is going pretty sweet, I’m enjoying it.
“It’s pretty sweet. I don’t know what the attendance is or whatnot, but I heard it’s over 20,000. It definitely changes the atmosphere just being out here in front of the best fans in the nation.
“So it’s definitely sweet, and I felt like we had a great day.”
Smith was a little off in his numbers, apparently referring to a report we all heard from Bears P.R. that over 20,000 tickets were distributed, but the tickets are free and clearly not all of them were used.
WBBM, CBS channel 2 in Chicago is reporting an official crowd of 8,385, and while I’m not sure where that number is coming from, it’s still massive by Bourbonnais standards.
Prince Amukamara has seen a lot of training camps after six years with the Giants and Jaguars and then spending the past two with the Bears in Bourbonnais, but he was just as blown away as Smith.
“It’s great, it’s great. I mean it. This is ridiculous.
“I mean ridiculous in a good way, the fact that a lot of these fans believe in us and we’ve got them excited for this year because of what we did last year. So, all of us are trying to make a point to interact with them as much as we can.
“We’re excited. This is a great feeling.”
Danny Trevathan is also a veteran of multiple camps in Denver and Chicago, with a Super Bowl ring, and he talked about what days like Saturday can mean.
“In Super Bowl mindset, every day is like that.
“Practice right now is the Super Bowl for me, man.
“That’s every day. You’re never going to be given another day — you’re only given this day right now — that’s the only thing that’s promised. So get the most out of it. Let’s make this the toughest day possible.
“Today was tough, but it was so fun man, and I know it’s early, but you know we’ve got to keep that mindset every day.
“The tough teams keep that mindset every day, even when you’re sore, you don’t feel like going through it, you have somebody in the back of your ear talking to you, pushing you man, that’s what we have here.”
It is so early in this 2019 season that it’s ridiculous to make too much out of anything.
But should these young Bears get into the season and begin to fulfill the sky-high expectations their fans have for them, I’ve got a hunch we’ll all look back to what happened Saturday as the day we all began to really realize what’s going on here.