‘Tailgating is a passion’: Bears fans flock to season opener

The smell of grilling beef filled the air as kids and adults played cornhole and music blasted from speakers.

SHARE ‘Tailgating is a passion’: Bears fans flock to season opener
Tim Shanley, who runs the Chicago Bears Tailgating Club, flies up from Austin, Texas, for every home game.

Tim Shanley, who runs the Chicago Bears Tailgating Club, flies up from Austin, Texas, for every home game.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Despite the Bears’ dismal last season, fans came out in droves to tailgate before Sunday’s season opener against the Packers at Soldier Field.

“Bears all the way,” said Lisa Regan, who took a train with her husband from Mokena to tailgate before Sunday’s game.

She said the Bears’ last season 3-14 record “wasn’t that bad” considering they lost by only a few points in several games.

This season, though?

“We have high hopes, but we’re not holding our breath,” she said.

Regan was among hundreds of Bears and Packers fans attending a tailgate on Cermak Road near the CTA Green Line’s McCormick stop.

Tailgaters play cornhole before Sunday’s season opener against Green Bay.

Tailgaters play cornhole before Sunday’s season opener against Green Bay.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

The smell of grilling beef filled the air as kids and adults played cornhole and music blasted from speakers.

“Tailgating is a passion,” said Tim Shanley, who organized the tailgate and runs the Chicago Bears Tailgating Club.

Shanley has flown from Austin, Texas, for the last 15 years to run tailgates and attend nearly every Bears game.

Tailgaters came out in droves on account of “a trifecta,” Shanley said: The good weather, a season opener and a game against the rival Packers.

Plenty of Packers fan were among the revelers at the tailgate.

Bears fan Mike Rhode lamented the Bears’ run last season with his friend, John Ernst, a Packers fan from Milwaukee.

Tailgaters cook out and play cornhole during a tailgate organized by the Chicago Bears Tailgating Club off of Cermak Road.

Tailgaters cook out and play cornhole during a tailgate organized by the Chicago Bears Tailgating Club off of Cermak Road.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

“Last year was super-disappointing,” Rhode said. “It’s only going up.”

On a positive note, the Bears record gave them first dibs in the draft, he said, which bolstered their roster.

With the late-game start of 3:25 p.m., fans enjoyed a few more hours with family and friends before sauntering over to Soldier Field.

“You’ve got all day out here,” Rhode said.

Bears fans Cindy Mawk and Greg Reece came from central Indiana to Sunday’s tailgate on Cermak, where they’ve been going for three years.

Fans make their way to the stadium for the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game Sunday.

Fans make their way to the stadium for the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

They used to tailgate near 31st Street Beach, but they sought a different spot after city rules limited official tailgates near the stadium to four hours before games.

Reece, from Indianapolis, said: “When they lose, it’s a longer ride home.”

Some made new friends before the game, overcoming the Bears-Packers rivalry.

“Just ‘cause we’re rivals doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly,” said Payton Chlewicki, who met Packers fan Sue Johnke.

Chlewicki wasn’t shy about her team’s performance last season.

“Petty bad? You mean terrible,” she said. She hopes Justin Fields throws the ball more and the team has a winning record this year.

“I’ll be glad if they go .500,” she said.

Tailgaters relax, eat, drink and mingle in the parking lot outside Soldier Field on Sunday. The crowds were larger due to the mild weather, the game being a season opener, and the fact that the opponents were the rival Packers.

Tailgaters relax, eat, drink and mingle in the parking lot outside Soldier Field on Sunday. The crowds were larger due to the mild weather, the game being a season opener, and the fact that the opponents were the rival Packers.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

As game time drew closer, tailgaters crammed the parking lot south of Soldier Field; it was so full that some people had to walk single file.

“We’re regular Bears fans,” said Jackie Trabilsy, sipping a beer. “They build your hope up every year, only to slash your dreams. But we come back every year.”

She and her friend Scott Melanson of Humboldt Park don’t make it to many games in person. But their luck had changed when Melanson won tickets in a contest.

“I usually watch games in a horizontal position from my couch,” he said.

He has hope for the team, its new management and roster.

“We’re in year two of a rebuild. We have very high expectations for Justin,” he said of quarterback Fields. “It’s like a whole new deal. I feel like it won’t be the same old Bears. I really do.”

Jackie Trabilsy and Scott Melanson wait to make their way to the stadium for the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers season opener outside Soldier Field on Sunday.

Jackie Trabilsy and Scott Melanson wait to make their way to the stadium for the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers season opener outside Soldier Field on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

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