"We arrived in the parking lots as soon as they opened this morning, which was considerably before I'm usually up on a Sunday," said Rich Gossage of La Porte, IN.
Gossage, a longtime fan, carpooled to the game with friends Mike Meriweather and Gary Harris, also of La Porte. It was the beginning of what all three hoped would be a banner day for the Bears.
"We've been following the team for years," Gossage said. "It's good to see them in this position after so many seasons of frustration. As we drove in this morning, I found myself thinking back to the draft, to training camp, and to the preseason games. It felt like one of those years where everything would go right. I'm just so glad that the team was able to take advantage of their talent to get this far. If things go as planned, the next stop will be in Miami."
Although Gossage and his party were uncertain whether or not they would make the financial commitment to follow the team south, the Parks family of Round Lake Beach made reservations months ago.
"It pays to be optimistic and to plan ahead," Richard Parks said. "My wife Pam and I plan to travel early next week. We found reasonable hotel prices and good flight schedules, so I think it should work out well. Of course, if the Bears don't end up winning today, we might lose our deposits. Or we might go ahead and go to Miami anyway."
Don Wachter, a.k.a. 'Bearman' - the infamous fan known for his No. 46 jersey and Bears warpaint - wasn't able to get a Super Bowl ticket through the Bears ticket-holder program lottery, but he plans to travel to Miami and hope for the best.
"I'll go and stand outside of the stadium if I have to for however long it takes," Wachter said. "I'm confident that somebody will have an extra seat to sell. Hopefully, the price won't be too high."
A long line snaking into the official Bears shop in the Cadillac Club was filled with fans discussing the probable outcome of the NFC Championship Game. Without exception, they felt the day would belong to the Bears.
Marianne Stickney of Chicago balanced a sizeable pile of t-shirts, hats, and team-themed gear while waiting her turn at the checkout counter.
"This is for all of my relatives and friends who live in Florida," Stickney said. "They won't be going to the big game, but at least they can wear the Bears' colors. I suspect that there are a lot of Chicago transplants in the south who will be gathering to watch the Super Bowl. And if the Bears don't win today, they'll wear the colors anyway."
Stickney herself plans to watch from Soldier Field at a Bears-sponsored mega tailgate party.
"I plan to be back here at the Cadillac Club Feb. 4 watching the guys play their hearts out," she said. "This team had no respect all season from anybody outside of this part of the Midwest. It's time they go down to a national stage and show what they can do."
And what about the few fans clad in Saints jerseys mingling with the hometown Cadillac Club crowds?
"We're proud to be here," said Ralph Metcalf of Metarie, LA. "I've felt all season that the Saints are the team of destiny. It seems that the entire country is behind us. I know my new Chicago friends here might not agree, but I think we're the ones who will be heading to Miami in two weeks."
Metcalf turned and headed for the stands, Saints flag in hand, hoping that the national sports pundits who touted a heavily-favored New Orleans team would prove to be right.
Too bad, Ralph. Bears fans were happy to welcome you to Chicago, but the fairy tale's over.
It's time to go home.
Beth Gorr is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry.