"OK, I'll admit it. I'm here because my girlfriend, an avid Bear fan, told me that I had no choice in the matter," said Salem, Wisconsin native Joe Meier. "But now that I'm here, I'm surprised to say that it's a lot of fun. The session with management this morning was very informative. I was amazed that Jerry Angelo and Ted Phillips were so accessible. Maybe I even learned some things that I can pass on to Green Bay."
Let's hope not, Joe. Your fellow Wisconsinite, Paul Metzger from Fond Du Lac, might get upset.
"Sure I live in Wisconsin, but that doesn't mean that I can't be a diehard Bears fan," Metzger said. "And if that other guy from Wisconsin gives you any trouble, just let me know."
Metzger finds that Bears fans are slightly unpopular in his part of the country, but he has been unwavering in his loyalty to the team.
"I watch as many of the games as I can," Metzger said. "Even though most of the local bars don't show them. I like following the players and seeing how they do from week to week. I don't wear too much blue and orange, though. Around here that can be asking for trouble."
Quarterback Kordell Stewart has been one of Metzger's favorites.
"Kordell is an interesting player. He has a lot of experience and he can get a team going," Metzger said. "But I guess that Grossman will be good to watch, too. He's young but he has potential. I'm delighted to see Ron Rivera back once more. I always liked to watch him play. He should be a fine coach."
Orlando Florida residents Kent Klonel and his son Joshua are able or indulge their Bears passion thanks to a satellite dish and Bear Report.
"We read every word of every issue. We watch every game," Klonel said. "Let's face it, the Orlando papers are not exactly brimming over with Chicago sports news. Bear Report and the television are our lifelines."
That the Klonels are loyal Bears fans isn't too much of a surprise when Klonel mentions that his family lived in Indiana and his father adored all things related to the Bears.
"Now I'm bringing up my son exactly the same way. That might be seem a little strange to our Dolphin fan neighbors in Florida but for us, it's a family tradition," Kent said.
The Orlando branch of the Klonel family has been keeping a close eye on Bears coaching changes and is eagerly anticipating both free agency and the 2004 Draft.
"I like what Jerry Angelo is saying here today," Kent said. "I think that he and Lovie Smith will work well together to add to the team through free agency. The Bears are well under the salary cap and there is room to negotiate. Then they can fill the remaining holes through the draft."
Joshua agrees and thinks that "this year the Bears could go all the way."
Michael Boyd is a high school DE from Shorewood who is devoted to the Bears. This is his fourth Fan Convention.
"I'm so excited about the new coaches," he said. "This should add an entire new dimension to the team. I came here to get a look at the players and to pick up some autographs. I've been waiting for Mike Tomczak for about an hour now, but it's worth it. When would I get another chance to meet him?"
Tim Lang of Yorkville brought his children to see former and current players, new coaches and Staley the Bear.
"This is the fifth year that we've come here," Lang said. "It's a great event for the entire family. We've been Bears fans for years but this past year is the first time I ordered season tickets. The new stadium is great. The sight lines are spectacular. I thought it would be fun for the kids if they had a chance to meet the same players they've been seeing on the field."
Are the long lines for autographs worth the wait?
"Sure, it's all part of the fun," Lang said. "We're meeting great people who follow the team just as enthusiastically as we do. Bears fans are like a big family. It's fun to get together and celebrate like this every year."