The Chicago Bears are just three weeks away from Training Camp! On Thursday, they released free tickets to their nine open practices at Halas Hall and they “sold out” in just a matter of minutes. The hype is real for Bears fans this year! I wanted to give some tips for those that were lucky enough to get tickets and also try to help those of you that couldn’t. Don’t worry, you still have an opportunity to see the Bears practice before the season gets going!
I’ll start with those of you headed to Halas Hall. This is now Year 3 of the Bears’ move from Bourbonnais to Lake Forest. Bourbonnais was once my sports sanctuary and I knew every inch and every angle of the Olivet Nazarene University campus. Halas Hall will never compare to Bourbonnais, in my opinion, but there’s no denying how cool it is to go the Chicago Bears actual training facilities in Lake Forest. And I’m sure the Bears benefit from sleeping in their own beds and training with their own equipment.
This is my step-by-step process I take when I’m headed to Halas Hall:
• Leave early. Because there is no parking at Halas Hall, you have to park for free at a nearby Hawthorne Mall and they have rotating shuttle busses that take you over to Halas Hall. If gates open at 9am, getting to Hawthorne at 7:30 a.m. isn’t the worst thing you can do. Plenty of fans to talk football with while you wait in line and the first buses leave for the gates typically around 8:30 a.m.
• Because you left early, you were able to get in line for the first buses to take you over. This helps because they take you over before the gates officially open and you can now check some key boxes off your checklist to enhance your trip to camp. It’s not the end all be all, you can still have a great day if you show up a little later but this will help you get the most out of your experience.
• When the gates open, everyone’s first instinct is to run and get the best seat to watch practice or spot for autographs. This isn’t Bourbonnais anymore. That’s not necessary. Because there is limited capacity, there are plenty of seats and plenty of opportunities for a picture or autograph before and after practice.
• Instead, there is an immediate booth when you walk in with camp staff helping fans get wristbands with access to the Walter Payton Center. Get your wristband! The Walter Payton Center is worth your time. They have some fun interactive stuff for the kids and some cool memorabilia on the top viewing deck to look at. If I were you, I’d check that out before practice starts. It’s an impressive facility.
• Next, after you’ve gotten your wristband, I always stop and take a look at the Bears pop up shop they have on your walk in. There’s a clearance rack that has some pretty great finds if you’re there early enough. But keep that between us!
• For those not rushing to the practice fields, there is a bunch of fun interactive stuff for the kids walking in and some quality food trucks along the way. Oh and they sell beer! Yes, even at 9 in the morning. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?! And if the 360 camera is there, stop and try it. You’ll love the video you get in return.
• Now is the time I’m making my way to the practice field. Don’t worry, don’t rush. Plenty of seats. Plenty of space for a good view. This used to be my biggest concern at Bourbonnais with limited bleachers. But that’s the nice thing about Halas Hall. You’re not fighting with 12,000 fans for a spot. As long as you’re not with a big group, you can always find space to slide in if you ask nicely. I’ll save you a seat.
• Also, bring a backpack! I always bring one to have some cold drinks for hot days, snacks for the kids and to keep all the giveaways you get walking in and purchases I buy at the pop up shop in a safe place. Helps keep me organized.
• Now practice has started. What to watch for? The beginning of practice is fairly slow. They are installing their plays and literally walking through them. But once 1 on 1s start, that’s where the fun begins! You’ll have WRs vs DBs on one side of the field and OL vs DL on the other. The battles are intense and a lot of fun for fans. Keep your head on a swivel for all the action.
• 7 on 7s and 11 on 11s is where you get your first look at what the team, as a unit, is made of. Not much tackling these days. This isn’t camps of yesteryear where you’d have full contact two-a-days. Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan aren’t walking through that door. But if you are lucky enough to see a practice where they have a live hitting session, buckle up! There is nothing better. Unfortunately for some of you, you’ll draw the short straw on a day where they aren’t wearing pads at practice. Gotta keep em’ fresh for the season. But on those days, the players tend to be much more friendly with their time after practice with fans.
• For the autograph and picture hunters: Before practice you won’t have much chance to meet a player but that doesn’t stop the fans from trying. Once in awhile, a player will give a quick hi before running back to do his job. But don’t count on it.
• There’s always the fans that spot up to get an autograph well before practice and stay there without even watching practice. I’ve never quite understood this strategy but to each is own. You can watch all of practice and still have a cool moment with some of the players.
• My advice is to stay back as the fans rush to spots. Don’t pigeonhole yourself to one spot. Stay back. Wait for the guys to trickle to different spots. Sometimes the guys you’re trying meet will go to a spot where there are less fans. It’s easier for them. And always be respectful, say please and thank you. Show love to the young kids around you. Help them have their moment before you have yours. Pay it forward. The players are watching your behavior and there’s nothing they hate worse than overly pushy fans.
• The buses taking you back are efficient so don’t worry if you miss one as you’re walking out. Take your time. Enjoy the day.
If you weren’t able to get tickets to one of the nine open practices at Halas Hall, you still have an opportunity to watch the Bears at camp. For the first time in a few years, the Bears have finally put Family Fest at Soldier Field on a weekend date. Lately, they have been on some random weekday at 9am and turnout has been really low for those. They used to do it on a Saturday night with fireworks to finish. I wish they’d go back to that but for now at least we got it back on a weekend. Sunday, August 6 at 9 am is this years Family Fest at Soldier Field. Lots open at 7:30 am, the outside activities and kids interactives open at 8:30 am right by the South entrance. It’s a perfect event to take your kids that are still too young to go to the games. The practice is the exact same as they do at Halas Hall and the players always try to put on a show for the Soldier Field faithful. Meeting players and getting an autograph is also a great opportunity at Family Fest. Once practice is over, again, stay back. Wait for the players to spread out and watch where they go. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to get a good moment or two. Tickets are $13 + fees which isn’t terrible and you get a nice day with your family or friends.
I would also recommend to any fan that doesn’t want to shell out the money to buy regular season tickets, understandably so, to look into tickets to the Bears preseason games at Soldier Field. A much easier game to get cheap tickets for, more family-friendly than the regular season games, and live action. My expectation is that HC Matt Eberflus won’t be resting his starters all of preseason the way Matt Nagy once did heading into a Week 1 matchup vs Green Bay in 2019. This Bears team seems ready to work this August and get some valuable reps before it’s money on the table time vs their hated rivals.
If you’re still looking for the authentic training camp adventure, I’d highly recommend looking into Training Camp tickets on the Colts website for August 16 and 17 down in Westfield, Indiana at Grand Park. Why? Because on those dates the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears will hold joint practices both nights before their preseason game that weekend! This is literally the best camp dates for Bears fans this year if you can make the trip. Two night practices with two teams battling it out. These types of practices are legendary for their competitiveness. Both teams have spent all of August hitting their own teammates, this is their chance to hit someone else before the season gets rolling. And you have a chance to not only see Justin Fields on one end but rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson for the Colts who was taken fourth overall in the NFL Draft. Plus, tickets to Colts training camp are free! Yes, it might be a long drive, but I promise it will be worth it. Last I checked, tickets are still available. But I’d jump on them now while you still can.
All in all, we’re all excited for camp to begin. Whether you can attend or not, no more hypothetical conversations, we finally get daily updates of our beloved Chicago Bears. Stick with us at CHGO Bears because we have some great coverage coming at Training Camp, preseason and throughout the year!