Every year, this writer tries to go to Chicago to attend at least one or more Bears’ events whether it’s a game or the Draft Party. It’s a lot of fun to get a little closer to the team. I was able to attend the Bears’ draft party last week, and it was the most interesting one yet. Here are some highlights and observations from that event.
The 2017 Chicago Bears Draft Party was held at Soldier Field on April 27th. It happened on the same night as the first round of the NFL Draft which is ideal for the Bears and their fans. With the Bears making the third pick in the draft, you knew that the party would still be going during that pick, barring a possible trade. Well, at least if the Bears traded down anyway. More about that later.
I took my nephew, who doesn’t really watch football, and whose parents are Minnesota Vikings fans, to this event. I didn’t know how he would react or what he would think. For him, it would be an interesting and eye-opening experience.
The draft party had several events that a person could take part in. I felt that the most interesting events included the locker room tour, the autographs, the photo opportunities and the draft discussion by a select panel of former Bears’ players. This panel included Hall of Famer Dan Hampton and longtime Bears Dan Jiggets and James “Big Cat” Williams.
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Fans had a chance to get out on the field and run some drills similar to what they run at the combine. There was a place to do the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump. You could also kick a field goal and catch a touchdown pass. Getting access to the field is something that the Bears haven’t done at times in the past, and you could tell last Thursday that fans really enjoyed it.
And getting a chance to stand on Soldier Field is always a big opportunity for any fan.
The autograph and photo lines were long, but if you were willing to stand around for a while and wait, you got to meet some of the Bears players from the recent past and present. I won’t put the complete list of players here, but they had guys like Johnny Knox, Jordan Howard, Mike Glennon, Charles Leno, Jr. and Nick Roach available. Fans seemed to really enjoy meeting these players and talking to them.
I got to ask a few players some questions. I won’t talk about all of the conversations I had, but there were a couple of interesting ones.
For instance, I asked Johnny Knox how he was recovering from his back injury. Remember that he had an injury to his spine and had to retire from football. I asked him how he had been progressing and he said that he had been doing better and had been recovering very well from the injury. He stated that he was feeling pretty good. The kind of injury he suffered was very serious, and he looked very healthy.
I also talked to former Bear’s linebacker, Nick Roach. Nick has often been the “target” of former Bear’s linebacker Lance Briggs on Briggs’ show The Lance Briggs Show on CSN-Chicago. He is not a target in a bad way, however. Briggs often calls Roach his second favorite linebacker after Brian Urlacher.
I asked Roach what he thought about Briggs calling him his second favorite linebacker. He looked at me, laughed and said something like “Lance says a lot of crazy things doesn’t he?” I replied, “Yes he does.” Then I made a remark about Briggs saying that he thinks he has CTE. Roach’s face lost its grin, and he said he hoped Briggs would make it through what he was dealing with.
Perhaps the biggest draw, aside from the autograph line for Jordan Howard, was televising the first- round selection that the Bears made. I managed to get a nice spot in front of the panel of experts and a television that was showing the draft live. I kept up with Twitter and I had seen that experts were saying, just minutes before it was Chicago’s turn to pick, that the Bears were trading down in the draft. Yes, down!
But about one minute after that hit Twitter, the NFL Network, stated that the Bears had traded up one spot to number two. Fans around the room were starting to question why Chicago would make such a move. People wondered who they were they going after. Who was there at number two that would not be there at number three? I heard Deshaun Watson’s named mentioned by a few people. Others thought Jamal Adams might be the pick.
The room hushed when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came to the podium to announce the Bears’ pick. This was very different from when he first came to the podium to open the draft. Just like the fans in Philadelphia did, the fans at the draft party booed him.
But not when he came forward to announce the Bears pick.
When Goodell said the words “the Chicago Bears select Mitchell Trubisky” it was as if someone let the air out of a football for a few seconds and then a great groan came from the crowd. Soon, you heard shouting and negative comments being given by people at the tables around me. One gentleman to my right said the “F-word” about six times right in a row. People threw their hands in the air. There were a few claps and cheers but that type of reaction was not the norm.
The fifteen minutes following the Bear’s pick was intense. There were several opinions cast about as to why the Bears did what they did. Honestly, most of the frustration by fans there appeared to be centered around the number of picks the Bears gave up to move ahead one spot. The point of contention on that being that people felt Chicago could have had Trubisky at number three and didn’t have to send all of those additional picks to San Francisco.
When the panel started their discussion about the pick, they were in shock like the rest of us. I had turned my back and was standing talking to someone a little ways away from the action. Because of that, I missed part of what was said at the start of the discussion. All I know is that Dan Hampton got quite a reaction from the crowd. He made a comment (which I only heard part of and will not mention what I heard because I didn’t hear it all) that got a huge laugh from the crowd. And I believe part of what he said referenced Kim Jong Il.
The three members of the panel were shocked that Chicago picked Trubisky. But, their biggest issue with the pick, as it was for most people, was the price the Bears paid to get him. It seemed steep to everyone.
After listening to several minutes of the draft conversation, we went to our scheduled tour of the Bears’ locker room. I had been in there many times before but each experience is like new. They had the names of all the new free agents the Bears had signed up on the lockers. We all know that the special teams guys, the kicker, punter and long snapper had lockers together. But what I hadn’t noticed was that their lockers were at the very end of the room almost in a corner. And the corner was dark.
Following the locker room tour, the group was led out of the same tunnel that the Bears players come out of during before games. They had the lights, music and fog machines going as we exited the tunnel and came out onto the field. This was my nephew’s favorite part of the whole experience, so much so he asked if he could go through the tunnel and come out again.
Coming out of the tunnel, at field level, with all the lights on and just “being on the field,” that was perhaps the most amazing experience of the night. Soldier Field is just as much a part of Bears’ history as Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, and George Halas. Being where they players play was big and I felt like I was stepping into history at that moment.
The draft party experience is one that every fan should enjoy at least one time in their life. Just getting to meet and talk to Bears fans, talk to players and get to see the inner workings of Soldier Field is well worth the cost of admission. Sure, you have some that say you don’t get your money’s worth but at this draft party, I think that everyone did. With the Trubisky pick and all the controversy surrounding it, it was a perfect time to be amongst Bears fans. The reaction from the crowd after the pick was priceless.
And, as always, I am looking forward to going again next year.