For a town obsessed with college football, we’ve had a few brushes with the NFL pros. If you’re old like me, you might remember when the Indianapolis Colts — and a rookie quarterback named Peyton Manning — came to Champaign-Urbana to scrimmage with the St. Louis Rams. It was the summer of 1998.
Even more recent was when the Chicago Bears made Memorial Stadium their temporary home during the 2002 season, while Soldier Field was being renovated. That was a good time.
The pros haven’t been around much in the 10 years since, but there’s still a good way to catch a glimpse of the Chicago Bears this preseason: head up Interstate 57 to Bourbonnais and watch some Bears training camp. Admission and parking are free!
Here’s how: Starting Thursday, July 26, the Bears will be in residence at their preseason training facility on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. Practice times vary between 2 and 2:30 p.m., with a couple of 7 p.m. times. They will be on campus most days through the end of training camp, with the last practice open to the public on August 17. (Here is a link to the complete schedule). Gates open one hour before practice starts.
It’s not just the training camp that is the attraction – there is a kids fun zone for children ages 4-12 with inflatables and other activities.
There are many special events, including:
– Run with Staley on Saturday, Aug. 11, where kids ages 14 and under will race a 1-mile loop around campus with the Bears’ mascot. Staley will also hold a kiddy dash on the track for children age five and under. The first 50 race participants to register will receive an autograph card for the kids’ autograph session that will take place following practice. Additionally, all participants will receive a T-shirt and medal. The registration fee is $15 per child.
- Autographs! At select practices, the first 150 kids ages 4-12 in line outside Gate 1 will receive a pass good for that day’s autograph session only. The autograph session is typically held immediately following practice and is located inside the tennis court area. Dates are 7/27, 7/31, 8/1, 8/2, 8/5, 8/7, 8/11, 8/14.
- Bears Family Night at ONU (Monday, Aug. 13) Come out to Ward Field and watch the Bears practice under the lights. Pre-practice festivities will begin at 6:00 pm with practice set to start at 7:00 pm. A spectacular fireworks display will take place after practice.
Parking and admission are free — food is available for sale.
Directions: Take I-57 north. Take the IL-50 exit (exit 315). Keep right and travel north on IL-50. Turn left (west) onto E4000N Rd/Larry Power Rd. Turn left (south) onto Rt. 45/52. Turn left onto University Avenue. At the stop sign, follow the curve left Enter campus on Nielson Drive. Trip is about 90 minutes from Champaign-Urbana.
If you go, let us know how much fun you had!