There’s a remarkable story taking place at Soldier Field this season, but the Chicago Bears are such a miserable team few fans are taking notice.
The story first came to my attention during the Bear’s Bourbonnais training camp in August as hundreds of children seeking autographs packed into two cattle pens on either side of an exit ramp leading from the team’s practice fields to the locker room.
For more than two hours the children waited for their hometown heroes to leave the fields. But as the players finally departed, most of them walked passed the adoring, screaming kids without a glance.
That’s when I noticed a 6-foot-3-inch player who not only stopped, but for at least 45 minutes diligently worked both sides of the fan pens (adults were not allowed inside).
“Hey, 81, over here, over here!” children screamed time and again.
I overheard one adult say, “The kids don’t even know his name,” to which another responded, “Who the heck is 81?”
I looked at a training camp roster supplied by the Bears and found the number and the name beside it … Cameron Meredith.
Not a single NFL team bothered to draft wide receiver Meredith coming out of Illinois State in 2015. No surprise really; he also had not been recruited by any major college coming out of high school.
He’s a local kid all the way, having attended St. Joseph High School in Westchester, where he played quarterback for a team that was pretty awful at the time.
As a youngster, Meredith actually went to a Chicago Bears training camp and screamed for autographs just like all those children I saw this summer. That may explain his compassion for them.
“All my life, I always told myself — driving down Lake Shore Drive — that one day I’d be playing in that stadium (Soldier Field),” Meredith said on the Bears’ website this year. “The mind is a powerful thing and 19 or 20 years later I’m actually in the process of making that dream a reality.”
Meredith seemed far from that reality at Illinois State, where he sat on the bench as a backup quarterback his first few years and was moved to receiver only in his junior season.
With the Bears in 2015, Meredith was a longshot to make the club. The organization had used its first-round draft pick, seventh in the league overall, on Kevin White, a wide receiver out of West Virginia who signed a four-year contract for $15 million. White fractured his shin before ever playing a down for the Bears, creating an opening on the roster for Meredith.
He finished the season with 11 receptions for 120 yards, hardly assuring himself of a roster spot in 2016, but showing enough to get the coaches’ attention.
Still, with a healthy White returning to the team this year, Meredith had another uphill battle to stay on the roster.
He beat out a variety of wide receivers the Bears had brought to camp. Then, when White went on the injured reserve list once more, Meredith got his big chance to start, although the team was using a backup quarterback at the time because Jay Cutler was injured.
Meredith has caught passes for more than 100 yards in each of the last two games, becoming one of the few bright spots on a team rapidly losing fan interest.
And that’s why I want people to take notice. This is a local kid who has beaten the odds to earn a spot on his hometown team.
I remember the way those children reacted when Meredith took the time to sign autographs for them. I didn’t know who he was then. But I made a mental note to pay attention.
I was a fan before he ever caught another pass.
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