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Bears alumni and fans fill Grant Park to celebrate 100th season

They weren’t as easy to spot as the Payton and Mack jerseys, but if you looked closely, Bears greats could be seen among the fans.

Cary and Lynn Rose stand in between their sons, Brandon and Jason at the NFL Kickoff experience in Grant Park.
Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Cary and Lynn Rose have had Bears season tickets in the north end zone at Soldier Field since 1999.

The 104-mile drive home from the stadium to Brookfield, Wisconsin, with their sons Brandon and Jason after the double-doink that ended the Bears’ 2018 season still hangs vividly in their memory. They sat in complete silence.

Their drive Thursday felt a bit different.

“The feeling driving down for this game is like a playoff game,” Cary said.

Waiting in every line and posing for every picture were the names Payton and Mack. It seemed those were the only two jerseys fans had a choice of wearing before coming to Grant Park to celebrate the NFL’s and the Bears’ 100th season.

According to these fans, this year is a big deal. “Super Bowl or bust” was a phrase thrown around. One former Bear who knows what a Super Bowl team looks like had a much different opinion.

“It’s typical Bear-Packer weekend from what I can see,” Super Bowl XX champion quarterback Jim McMahon said. “I think they’re headed in the right direction. I think coach [Matt] Nagy has done a good job. From the little bit I saw last year, they’ve got a lot of talent. Whether it’s Super Bowl or bust, I don’t know. But I think they’ll do well.”

McMahon wasn’t the only former Bears player on hand. They weren’t as easy to spot as the Payton and Mack jerseys, but if you looked closely, Bears greats could be seen among the fans.

Devin Hester was playing Madden against fans at the EA Sports attraction, Brian Urlacher made an appearance on the NFL’s main stage, Matt Forte and Lance Briggs were part of Courtyard by Marriott’s fan experience and Richard Dent joined McMahon and Charles Tillman signing autographs throughout the day.

Regardless of McMahon’s relaxed take on the 2019 season, many of them are convinced the energy is different this season.

“It’s starting to feel like a Super Bowl game right here,” Forte said. “I think so much is at stake. This game is mounting up to be that type of level of a game. It’s huge for the Bears to win this game because it sets the tone for the entire season.”

“When you’re a team that’s favored to reach the Super Bowl that brings a lot of life to the city,” Briggs said. “It’s great that it’s happening in the 100th year because the Bears are one of the 100-year teams. It’s a bigger celebration than just the NFL, it’s also the Bears who have been here 100 years. We all know that.”

Before the Rose family walked over to Soldier Field, they stood in front of a monitor in Grant Park watching one of the many highlights from one of the many games in the Bears-Packers rivalry.

“Expectations, I don’t recall, have ever been this high to start opening week of the season,” Brandon said.