Chicago Bears Training Camp begins this week, and this year will be my fifth season covering the Bears from sunny Bourbonnais. During that time, I’ve learned a trick or two along the way. For those fans who’ve been right there with me, this guide probably won’t help you. But, since I get asked for tips from first-timers just about every year, I thought I’d offer up a few.
Certainly with a new head coach in town for 2013 things will change. Practice times, for example, have been moved from afternoon to morning, which should serve to keep both players and fans out of the worst of the heat, and perhaps it will also serve to thin out what have been record-breaking camp crowds as of late.
Some things, however, will not change. And with those things in mind, here are my five tips for a successful trip to Chicago Bears Training Camp:
1. Secret parking
The are two official ways to enter camp down at Olivet Nazarene University: You can come in on Stadium Drive off of Armour Road, or you can come in on University Avenue off of Route 45. If you must enter “officially,” I suggest Stadium Drive to the north. Here’s why: The north entrance is usually less crowded, and it lets you in right at the fields, which means you get to claim your seat quicker. All the concessions, shops and kids areas are near the south entrance, but you can just as easily claim your spot and then head over to those — you’ll have time.
Now, for those of you who like to be sneaky like me … I have an unofficial tip when entering from the north: Sometimes — no, not all the time — Stadium Drive can come to a stand-still as officials try to squeeze everyone in the parking lot. Even though you may not encounter this, your best bet is to avoid the chance-traffic altogether. Instead of taking that southern turn down Stadium Drive, head down Belmont Avenue (just one block to the west), park on the street and walk over to camp through Granger Park. This will save you a lot of frustration when leaving, too.
2. Sometimes late is better
Most people will tell you to make sure to get to camp early. And sometimes that’s a smart play. When it really used to come in handy was when Lovie Smith would conduct night practices under the lights, but Trestman put the kibosh on those for this year, so just use some common sense. If you’re going on a weekend, you may want to go early, as those days will inherently be more packed. Also, if you’re taking the kids and want to enjoy all the extras while there, an early arrival is recommended.
But, for the hard-core fan who’s just interested in breaking down plays and players, there’s no reason to bust your hump getting there early just to stand in line. Most of the time, there are plenty of seats for all, and most all views from the bleachers are good ones. Avoid the lines, avoid the warm-ups and just come for the good stuff.
3. Know your field
This one is simple but important. One of the first things you want to do when entering the gates is to find an employee and ask them which field the team will be practicing on. There are two main fields to the north, and the team alternates between them so as not to damage the turf too much. Sometimes the field assignment can even change in the hours leading up to practice, so it’s always good to check in with someone before setting up shop on the west field, only to find out they’re practicing on the east field.
Another way to get this info, if you will pardon the small self-promo, is to follow me on Twitter. Any of the days I’m in attendance, I will check in with Bears’ media relations when I arrive to get all the pertinent info you may need to know and tweet it out.
4. Roster cards
People — especially you city people — are conditioned to not take the things that other strange people try to hand you when out and about. Don’t let that habit follow you into camp. Take what the staff is trying to give you. Some of it may be cool freebies, but one of the things will most surely be a roster card. This will have all the players currently on the roster listed by name and number.
I know you think you’re the smartest Bears fan who ever lived — and maybe you are — but you will still need a roster card. I’ve spent all off season covering the team, and I will have my head buried in it just as much as the rest of you. After all, there’s no point in trying to associate 90 players to 90 names by memory when nearly 50% of them won’t be on the team come September.
5. Positional drills are fun, too
Most fans really enjoy watching the 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, but those usually don’t take place until the end of practice, which is about two and a half hours long in total. So my suggestion is to go into camp with an idea of what you feel like watching. If it’s the receivers, then go find the receivers and watch them perform their drills. If it’s the defensive lineman, go find ‘em. Getting a feel for the specifics of one particular position during practice and learning something is more gratifying than trying to take in a mass of positional drills and learning nothing.
Speaking of positional drills, the defensive backs are one of my favorites. Jon Hoke is a fun coach, but even more fun is Charles Tillman’s trash-talking.
While I certainly don’t and can’t ask for autographs, here’s what I’ve learned specifically about the process: The rookies will have a far greater tendency to sign prior to practice as opposed to the veterans, but your best bet is almost always to try and get all your signatures after practice when the work is done. Also, check the Bears’ website for info on any organized signings for kids, etc.
Bonus tip for after practice: If you’re looking to see some players out on the town, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard reports of players at just about every downtown establishment, from the Jimmy Johns to the steakhouses. If you’re weird and like to meet the local beat reporters, the late night crowd sometimes heads over to T.J. Donlins. If you’re even weirder and want to have a beer with yours truly, I can be found after every practice at Brickstone Brewery. Brickstone, by the way, is a nice place to take the family afterward. Food and service is good, and dad will love the selection of micros.
That’s it from me. Have fun out there!
Camp kicks off Friday, July 26. Get the full schedule here.
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Filed under: Training Camp