CHICAGO — To say that Chicago is crazy about its Bears right now is about as controversial or debatable as reminding folks that Papa Bear George Halas is the father of the National Football League.
In spite of huge crowds and a serious web of traffic tangles in the loop due to the normal rush of Saturday night summer visitors and the penultimate evening of the Lollapalooza Music vest, a full-throated mass of Bears fans estimated at 18,797 showed up at Soldier Field Saturday night for the Meijer Chicago Bears Family Fest to cheer on their beloved.
Don’t ever doubt that Bears head coach Matt Nagy knows how to play to a crowd as the evening featured a full practice of two hours and 40 minutes almost identical to one we’ve seen daily in Bourbonnais, capped by a fireworks show after practice to the joyous delight of Bears Nation.
The video boards at each end of Soldier Field were active throughout the practice, including a special montage of 2018 endzone celebrations and close-up looks at the live action on the field along with regular shots of the fans enjoying themselves.
There were also special moments early in practice as a number of fans, mostly kids, were taken out to midfield by Bears personnel to meet Nagy, go into the huddle with Mitch Trubisky and then watch with Nagy as the play they had heard called unfolded in front of them.
The first player to single himself out in drills was wide receiver Javon Wims, who appeared to be catching everything in sight early in the evening. And then about 40 minutes in, in a 7-on-7 drill, Wims beat All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller with a double move and made an impressive over-the-shoulder catch in the endzone on an absolutely perfect throw from Trubisky that traveled roughly 55 yards in the air.
For those worried about the Bears quarterback’s accuracy on deep balls it may have been his best throw of training camp so far.
Running back Mike Davis also has a particularly impressive catch and run to the endzone on a stop-and-go from Chase Daniel and undrafted rookie free agent tight end Dax Raymond took a nice over-the-shoulder throw to the endzone that brought the crowd to its feet as well.
As I’m sure you’d guess, there was of course a place-kicking duel in which both Elliott Fry and Eddie Pineiro were impressive. But Pineiro got the edge, finishing with a 60-yarder that split the uprights, while Fry’s long ball from 60 went wide right.
Each kicker was perfect from 33, 38 and 45 yards to the North endzone and then from 38, 48 and 53 yards through the south uprights before Pineiro hit and Fry missed on their long bombs, both aimed at the south end.
While Family Night is aimed at entertaining the fans more than anything else each year, this event gave the Bears the added bonus of their first evening practice at Soldier Field, kicking off at almost the same time as their season opener will in just under five weeks against the Packers.
It also allowed the team a bit of a dress rehearsal for their first exhibition game of the season this coming Thursday night against the Panthers.
One of the things we rarely think about unless you’re a member of the team is with 90 players on the roster and a number of new coaches, is that half the guys on the team have never even been to Soldier Field, most not at all and some at least not as the home team. Saturday’s practice gave them a chance to get all the logistics out of the way and familiarize themselves so they can focus on trying to earn roster spots next week.
A few other players with special moments Saturday night included Tarik Cohen with a big catch and run that electrified the crowd and Akiem Hicks intercepted a ball that was deflected at the line by Roqaun Smith in a 7-on-7 drill and took it to the house as the crowd roared.