Every summer growing up, my mom would drive me, my best friend, and my brother up to Platteville, Wisconsin for Chicago Bears training camp. I got Tom Waddle to sign my #87 jersey I bought with money earned shoveling driveways the previous winter. I saw Curtis Conway drive away in a fancy gold sportscar and Kevin Butler sit on his helmet. Random, fun memories.
As a writer and now podcaster, training camp means something a bit different. The start of a new cycle, the chance to see new players up close that I will write and talk about, and the chance to connect with colleagues and meet new people. Hanging out amongst Bears fans dedicated enough to take time off work to go watch a random practice represents a certain kind of happy place few will understand.
This year I have been particularly focused on the fan. What do fans think of the new leadership group? What about Justin Fields? How did they become Bears fans? Their rituals, their favorite players, and what this team means to them. I have profiled a dozen of them so far in The Bears Hopium Den podcast series.
The single most compelling piece of information I took from that project was that Bears fans come from all over the world and attach themselves to this team for myriad reasons. If you were looking for a commonality that everyone shared, it’s hope. The hope that this team might be better than the national media suggests. The hope that the new Matt and Ryan will be better than the old Matt and Ryan. That the new QB will be the savior. The hope that this year will prove different, better, more interesting, before everyone inevitably says – “just wait until next year.”
I want to drink in that hope cocktail amongst those that mix the strongest offerings. The ones that make you breathe fire if you stay with it too long. The ones with that tincture of blind faith and unadulterated enthusiasm that hits the back of your throat like barrel proof bourbon that hasn’t aged nearly long enough.
I’ll watch the offensive line with interest and yes, I want to see how the WR group looks and what Justin Fields can do with a full offseason under his belt. But I’m most looking forward to soaking up the July sun rays with a few hundred of my closest friends that I’ve never met wearing Navy & Orange and dreaming of what it all could mean.
Find me on Twitter @gridironborn. I’ll be covering camp for WCG July 28, 29, and 30.