Convention a Hit with Fans

The 8th annual Bears Fan Convention proved to be a popular event for football aficionados throughout the Midwest as a sizable crowd roamed the Chicago Hilton and Towers in search of autographs, informational sessions, and souvenirs.

Marcy Switzer and her family from Grand Rapids Michigan came to town in hopes of connecting with some of the ‘85 Bears.

"This is a special year with the 20th anniversary of the Super Bowl win, Switzer said. "I wanted our children to have the chance to meet some of these players. We really enjoyed the opening ceremonies last night with so many of the players present. Although I was pretty young when the game took place, just watching the videos and hearing all the fans applaud really brought back that time."

While many came to see and hear what players and coaches had to say, there was also heavy traffic in the souvenir area. New to the convention this year were event specific commemorative t-shirts as well as distinctive white with navy hats and shirts sporting the newly minted ‘85 team logo.

The lower level of the convention hall next to the autograph area was a treasure trove for fans in search of historic football photographs, signed mini helmets and balls, and historic and current signed jerseys. Don Wachter, who proudly holds the Bears flag in the end zone during games, was scouting for mementos to bring home.

"This is one of my favorite parts of the convention," Wachter said. "It's interesting to see all the old photos and jerseys. From the crowds here, I'd guess that a lot of Bears fans feel the same way."

As is usually the case, this year's convention turned out to be a family affair. Many parents brought their children ranging in age from infants through teenagers in hopes of introducing them to a current or former Bear.

Mike Mallone of Bloomingdale who brought his son, Marcus, a high school sophomore, hoped to meet Rex Grossman, Steve McMichael, or The Fridge.

"The publicity leading up to this event was very exciting," Mallone said. "I think that this is the most players who have come to Chicago for the convention this far. Although the lines seem pretty long, we're hoping to get quite a few autographs. I also plan to attend a number of the informational sessions to find out what the team has planned for this upcoming year. There have been a lot of changes, but I'm feeling optimistic. 2005 should turn out well."

The Bears organization planned many of this year's convention activities around the interests of their youngest fans, including special Kids Only Huddles in the International Ballroom. Player appearances and autographs, play-against-a-pro arcade games, and kids Q and A with current players generated considerable excitement among the school-aged set. Staley, the Bears mascot, was on hand to kick off a new program emphasizing the importance of fitness and proper nutrition for children.

Julie Rogers of Park Ridge, a longtime fan, hopes that her eight-year-old daughter Stacey will learn to enjoy the game.

"I think that the stereotype of the male fan is beginning to disappear," Rogers said. "There's no reason that women shouldn't be knowledgeable about football, just like the men are. I'm here to learn what's going on with the team through the sit down sessions led by the coaches and players. Hopefully my daughter will learn to love football, too. But now, she's much more interested in seeing Staley the Bear and the mascot football game in the kids area."

One of the busiest parts of the convention floor was the autograph area where hundreds of fans lined up and waited patiently for a signature from a current or former Bears greats. Among the most popular autographs were those from members of the 1985 team, with current players also very much in demand.

Matt Hicks of Kankakee was looking forward to renewing an acquaintance with Ian Scott and Nathan Vasher, who he had met while visiting training camp last summer.

"It's fun to have the chance to talk to these players one on one," Hicks said. "They are nice, normal guys. It makes me much more interested in the team having had a chance to know the players, even a little bit. Many more residents of the Kankakee-Bourbonnais region are following the Bears now that they have come to the area for their training camp. "

For Jeff Davis, a suburban resident and the author of the recently released "Papa Bear", a book on the life and times of team founder George Halas, the convention was about the former Bears.

"I'm catching up with Larry Morris and Rick Casares today. They were interview subjects who became friends during my research for the Halas book. What wonderful stories these former players have to tell. It's important that today's fans understand what these great players accomplished during their time with the Bears. This team means so much to the history of the NFL and these men were the foundation of the league."

Will all of the positive energy and good will generated during this mid-March weekend translate into a winning season for the team? Jim Ross of DeKalb thinks so.

"I believe that many of the problems the team encountered last season are over. This is a good group the organization has assembled. They've done well in free agency and have replaced some personnel who needed to go. I'm looking forward both to the draft and to the opening of training camp. I know that all fans say ‘this is the year' but I really believe it. The Bears are going to be an outstanding team in 2005."

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