"This is great," Hunter said. "I liked it so much last year that I asked my dad to bring my brother Mike and me back again this time. It's something I look forward to. It's fun to watch them on television, but this is a chance to really be with the Bears?"
The Benson boys were dressed appropriately for the occasion with white and blue #54 jerseys over their navy blue Bears shorts. Their dad Max sported a Bears cap.
"Urlacher's our favorite," Hunter stated "But we'd be happy to get anybody's autograph. It's just fun to talk to the players and watch what they do on the field. Most of them are pretty nice guys. They take time to sign our footballs."
Tyler Roseman, age 10 from Joliet agreed.
"Everybody likes Urlacher. He's the best one of them all. But I also like Mike Brown and some of the other players. If I had a choice, Brian is still the one I'd like to meet."
The Kids Corner adjacent to the practice field at Olivet Nazarene University was filled with similarly attired tots and preteens, all anxiously waiting for an encounter with their heroes. Parents who accompanied the children seemed almost as excited about the evening as their young charges.
Tom Thrush from Ottawa came to Bourbonnais with a group of 12 friends and neighbors ranging in age from preschoolers to grandfathers.
"It's great that the team has moved its practice facility down from Platteville to Kankakee," Thrush said. "It just wasn't convenient for me to take my family up to Wisconsin to see the team. It's so much more convenient for those of us who live in this area now. I come here quite a few times each summer. I can usually make it to practice in under an hour on the road."
Thrush's favorite player is Mike Brown, who he lauds for his ‘blue collar work ethic'.
"You can tell that Mike has been in the trenches," Thrush said. "He isn't afraid to get in there and get dirty. He understands the effort that this game requires and he always seems to give 100%. He makes things happen on the field. That's the kind of player I enjoy watching."
Although last year's results were not what fans had hoped for, most seemed undaunted and quite optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I think things are going to be greatly improved this year," said Jack Rogers of Pontiac. "I've followed the Bears for some time now and what I have been seeing this summer has been quite encouraging. I like the new offensive coordinator. He seems to have things under control. The offensive line is moving more as a unit and seems to be able to do a better blocking job. That alone is good progress."
Mark Matthews of Manteno, who attended the practice with his son Rick, liked much of what he saw from the team but was frustrated that Cedric Benson had not yet appeared in camp.
"It's getting pretty late in the process," Matthews said. "I think he's missing out on a lot by not being here. That can't be good for everybody else on the team. It's a shame that nothing seems to have been resolved yet."
It might be small consolation for Matthews, but GM Jerry Angelo seemed to agree with that assessment when he paused for a brief chat with reporters before practice began.
"Nothing to report on Benson as yet," Angelo said. "We're working on it. His people are working on it. Hopefully an agreement can be reached quickly."