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Jerry Davich: Your guide to Bears training camp

Chicago Bears fans watch Bears players practice during NFL football training camp Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais Ill. Sunday July 29

Chicago Bears fans watch Bears players practice during NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., Sunday, July 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:19AM



Brandon Marshall made an impressive over-the-shoulder, one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone.

Chicago Bears fans, who waited for hours to cheer for something on this hot, humid day, erupted into cheers.

“Welcome to Chicago!” screamed one woman from the bleachers near the practice field. “Where have you been all our lives?”

Marshall only smiled after spiking the football on this Thursday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene College in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Welcome to ground zero for hope, hype and countless huddles as the Bears prepare for the 2012 season with their annual training camp. Here, legions of loyal Bears fans make the pigskin pilgrimage to adore their gridiron gladiators.

“This is like Disneyland for us Bears fans,” explained Frank D. of Downers Grove, Ill., a retired paramedic who sat in the front row of practice field 1 on the spacious campus.

He’s right, I soon learned during my first-ever visit to a Bears training camp. This year’s team, however, doesn’t seem to be a fairy-tale collection of Mickey Mouse players. Up close and in person, they appear hungry, confident and, of course, hopeful of a Super Bowl season.

But relax, NFL fans, this column isn’t about the team, per se, or this year’s football season or, thankfully, any fantasy football leagues. As I’ve said before, the word I prefer to associate with “fantasy” certainly isn’t “football.”

Instead, this column is a preview for any Bears fans from our region considering a visit to Bourbannais to watch training camp, as I did late last week. Or, to those on-the-fence fans who always wondered, as I did the past 30 years, if it’s worth the trip, time and expense.

As usual in my travels, I took copious notes, asked a lot of stupid-sounding questions and took too many photos, a few of which you can view on my Facebook page if interested. (By the way, Marshall IS the towering beast of a player as billed. He caught a sideline pass just a few feet away from me and I couldn’t believe his size.)

Not only did I attend training camp as a long-time Bears fan, but also as a half-fast sportswriter, so I was able to score a media credential for behind-the-scenes stuff, too. I wore it proudly as I was allowed closer than other fans to the field, the players and the action.

That’s how I stumbled into a media interview with Brandon Hardin, whom I would not have recognized from a ham sandwich if not for all the reporters who swarmed his way after he left the Ludwig dining center.

Many other players avoided media there, but not this rookie safety, who answered several questions before scampering off.

“I need to step up my game. ... You can’t take a break off in this league. ... The speed of the game is what I expected,” he told us, echoing the same essentially meaningless words as most every other NFL rookie.

I’m convinced that if he said, “Blah ... yadda, yadda, blah ... blah, blah, blah,” those reporters would still respond with a stone-faced nod, as if he just gave a lecture on quantum physics. Seriously, how many lame sports cliches can we take in one lifetime?

Fans need practice. too

While loitering, uh, I mean waiting outside the dining center, I was passed by Bears kicker Robbie Gould (in no major hurry), special teams coach Dave Toub (on a bicycle) and the “ri-dic-u-lous” punt returner Devin Hester (via a golf cart). I didn’t want to wait around for any more player sightings there, so I wandered toward the practice fields.

There, hundreds of fans were already waiting to get inside the gate, some since early that morning. I quickly learned there are three kinds of Bears fans: die-hard fans; crazy, over-the-top, life-revolves-around-football fans; and then parents of young kids.

These die-hard mothers and fathers had to bake under the hot sun for hours for the chance to get their child into a special autograph session after practice ended. Only the first 150 kids get to do this, on select days, so I advise getting there early (by 11 a.m.), even though practice may start at 2 p.m.

Here are a few other tips, suggestions, and words of advice for anyone thinking of going camping, Chicago Bears style, which runs through Aug. 16.

First, figure out which route works best from where you live. My gut told me to take expressways, but my GPS (and a friend) said to take back roads from Valparaiso. It worked, though, taking me less than 90 minutes, including through a construction zone.

Parking is a breeze, and it’s free. So is entrance to the practices. But save money by bringing your own drinks, snacks and a cooler, which is allowed inside the gate as long as it holds no booze. (And yes, they check them.) Gates open an hour before practice, but practices are subject to change so first visit www.chicagobears.com.

Also, bring a hat, sunscreen and an umbrella. The most appreciated coverage on the practice field the day I attended came from the late afternoon clouds, not any defensive backs. Finding shade anywhere there is about as tough as finding a Packers fan. For me, it was a “three shirt” experience as I went through a sweaty trio of shirts throughout the day.

Bring a lawn chair, too, as well as a pair of binoculars if possible, and a roster of the players so you know who to applaud, who to focus on or who to taunt.

“Hey No. 81, you dropped another one!” one middle-aged fan yelled from his seat. “Ain’t nobody even covering you yet. You won’t make the team with those slippery (expletive) hands!”

Don’t be too surprised. Remember, Bears fans need practice, too, for the long season ahead.

Find more of Jerry’s writings, photos, and radio shows on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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