Hit the road

The moving vans were fired up, and the SUVs were loaded and ready to roll.

Bears players heard the final horn, concluding Wednesday's morning practice and there were record times recorded on the stop watch as players raced to the parking lot.

It marked the end of training camp after almost three weeks at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

"It was great. The facilities are unbelievable and the people have been great," said Bears quarterback Jim Miller. "The fan support was more than we had (in Platteville). It's nice because all these businesses make money and all the revenue stays in the state of Illinois, which it should. I know people have enjoyed it and I know the guys on the team really did.

"The meeting rooms, the dorms -- even the food was outstanding."

The Bears spent the last 18 years of training camp in Platteville, Wis., at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The team is locked into another year in Bourbonnais next summer, but an option year in the third and maybe even longer are definite possibilities.

"Obviously the fans have been great for us," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "I know we need to thank the fans for their support. They really turned out in numbers. We thought they'd turn out, but I don't think we imagined they'd turn out in the numbers they came in.

"It was great for our players. I think it helped push them through. These are tough days, they get tired and their legs are heavy, and it helps having all the fans out. I really enjoy seeing all the kids, too. It gives them a chance to see the Chicago Bears. Let's face it, a lot of them don't have that opportunity during the year."

The Bears, who play at the St. Louis Rams Friday, return to headquarters at Halas Hall in Lake Forest for the rest of training camp, which is closed to the public. They'll have a walk-through this morning, and fly to St. Louis Friday morning.

One huge sign in Bourbonnais summed up what this training camp meant to the community: "Can't Bear to See You Go."

"It's been a great run. I wish we could stay longer," said Brian McCaskey, the Bears' director of business development. "I can't believe how fast time flies. I think it's been a good camp for the community and us.

"It's really exceeded our expectations." McCaskey said the organization was shocked at the big turnout of fans and the support the community showed the Bears. Olivet officials estimated more than 100,000 fans turned out to watch practice over the 18-day camp, an average of more than 5,500 a day.

"We planned for success, but we didn't plan for this much success," McCaskey said. "It's a good problem to have, but we're looking at adding another berm (where fans can watch practice) and more bleachers. We want to add more amenities for our older fans, for our handicapped fans and for our younger fans.

"We're definitely encouraging feedback. We want to make this the best experience possible. We've opened it up to the fans, so we've got to have their input."

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