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Training camp for the Chicago Bears began this week — which means summer is over, Chicago.
Well, for my family, anyway.
This is the 10th season my husband, Patrick Finley, has covered the Bears for the Chicago Sun-Times and his ninth training camp. If you are familiar with local sportswriters, he’s the one who creates chicken-scratch drawings representing key moments when photos aren’t allowed to be taken by the media during practice.
His first training camp experience in 2013 (or, three head coaches ago) was similar to that of the players — days began early and continued under an unforgiving sun followed by uncomfortable nights trying to sleep on an extra-long twin bed in a dormitory room at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. While photographers captured players lugging toilet paper, giant televisions and even massage chairs into their temporary quarters, Pat brought a newly purchased mini-fridge for his space — just like his freshman year at the University of Missouri.
Through the decades, the venue for Bears training camp has changed with the times, even taking the team to Indiana and Wisconsin.
This is the second season (whoops, Pat tells me it’s actually the third year) the Bears have stayed home to practice at their recently expanded and remodeled headquarters in Lake Forest. Instead of dorm rooms, players live at home or in hotel rooms near Halas Hall. While our son and I enjoy that Pat now comes home each night during camp, I think Pat misses the camaraderie that only happens when reporters — tired from a day capturing, editing and sending along their takes on all things notable — are away from their families for days or weeks, but are looking for someone to grab dinner or a beer with.
Those bonds forged during training camp continue throughout the season when the team’s game and practice schedule takes precedence over birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. That’s why it’s bittersweet to begin another cycle without two members of this hodge-podge fraternity — Jeff Dickerson and John “Moon” Mullin.
Still, training camp also combines the excitement and possibility of what could happen for the Bears this NFL season. And that’s why I wanted to highlight some of that electricity, humor and optimism found in moments from camps decades ago and more recent.
I hope these recollections from the Tribune’s archives rekindle the joy that comes with new beginnings and fresh starts — even if you’re not a Bears fan or reporter.
Now is a great time to subscribe to the Tribune. It’s just $12 for a 1 year digital subscription.
Thanks for reading. See you next week! Bear down!
— Kori Rumore, visual reporter
Photo gallery: Bears training camps through the years
Relive highlights of training camps from 1940 onward. See more photos here.
1975: The first Bears training camp in Lake Forest
“It is 9:30. Truth time. The flashy car, newspaper clippings, praise from a college coach — all are no help now. Practice is a time for sweating intelligently, for the head to know what to do and the body to be able to do it. It is a time when jobs are won and lost,” longtime Tribune reporter Charles Leroux wrote about the first day of Bears training camp at Lake Forest College in 1975. Read more here.
Walter Payton: ‘Sweetness’ skips traffic, takes helicopter ride to camp
Payton paid $400 an hour for the hour and 20-minute ride to Platteville, Wis., and he had to buy the round trip.
‘’It was the only way I could get up here fast enough without getting a ticket,’ he said.
Payton had been “involved in litigation in Chicago with his restaurants,” the Tribune reported, causing him to miss the first two days of camp. Read more here.
- Walter Payton was bored, restless, searching for a way to entertain himself and his teammates in the dead of summer at Bears training camp in 1984. So he tossed a firecracker into the dormitory — at 4 a.m.
- Ranking the 100 best Bears players ever: No. 1, Walter Payton
Jim McMahon: Gives himself a Mohawk
“I just kept trimming and trimming and it kept getting worse and worse,” he said. Read more here.
- ‘Punky’ best describes McMahon era with Bears
- Ranking the 100 best Bears players ever: No. 56, Jim McMahon
William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry: Loved by London
The Bears broke camp to play in the inaugural American Bowl at London’s Wembley Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. Though the game didn’t generate many headlines in the local papers, the Bears’ defensive tackle sure did.
“Reporters had considered and analyzed everything from his dietary habits to his love life,” the Tribune reported. Read more here.
- Photo gallery: Chicago Bears play in London in 1986
- Photo gallery: Take a look back at Bears’ trips to London in 1986 and 2011
- Ranking the 100 best Bears players ever: No. 99, William Perry
Jay Cutler: Chills in a customized conversion van
A year earlier, the Bears quarterback arrived in Bourbonnais driving a Cadillac Escalade. Read more here.
- Cutler on overconfidence: ‘We haven’t done anything yet’
- Ranking the 100 best Bears players ever: No. 78, Jay Cutler
Photo gallery: What Bears players brought to training camp
From TVs to toilet paper to a guitar. See more photos here.
Mike Glennon: Joins the cupping craze
“Cupping seems to have increased in popularity since American swimmer Michael Phelps’s body was all dotted up at the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016. Since about that time, the Bears have been using it too,” the Tribune reported in 2017. Read more here.
Tarik Cohen: Drives Batmobile-esque sports car to camp
In the 1980s, Jay Hilgenberg and Tom Thayer made the 180-mile trek from Chicago to Platteville on motorcycles.
Running back Tarik Cohen drove 90 miles from Vernon Hills to Bourbonnais in 2019 in his own custom three-wheeled version known as a Slingshot.
“I only do the speed limit,” he insisted. Read more here.
Join our Chicagoland history Facebook group for more from Chicago’s past.