Chicago Bears fans garbed in jerseys and other orange and blue memorabilia flocked to Soldier Field in anticipation of Sunday afternoon’s Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. For some, the trip required crossing continents.
Arturo Rivas, 31, traveled from Spain with his parents for the game — his first visit to the United States. A lifelong football fan who grew up playing the “Madden NFL” video game and watching the Bears with his dad, Rivas got to the stadium about three hours early to tailgate and drink beer. He called Chicago “one of the top three cities” in the country, saying the Field Museum and Lincoln Park Zoo were two of his other favorite attractions so far.
Despite last year’s disappointing 3-14 record, Rivas is hopeful the Bears will be playoff contenders this season. He’s particularly looking to third-year quarterback Justin Fields to improve offensive productivity. It’s also the team’s second season under coach Matt Eberflus.
“There’s a lot of talk that they finish at the bottom of the NFC, but I don’t think so,” he said. “I think they could battle for playoffs.”
Rivas wasn’t the only international fan at the game. Sabrina Jones, Kyla Reis and Courtney Hiscox, a trio from Alberta, Canada, attend a baseball and football game in a new city every year for a girls trip. It’s their fifth year of the tradition, and they said they’ve already gone to two Cubs games and are planning to catch a White Sox game before they leave.
They aren’t die-hard Bears fans yet, they said, but they think the city is a great place for live sports.
“We usually buy a shirt when we get here, and support the team while we’re here,” Jones, 42, said.
Of course, many avid local fans secured seats for the much-anticipated rivalry game. The Bears and Packers, the two oldest teams in continuous operation in the National Football League, have a rivalry spanning more than 200 regular season games and two playoff contests. The Packers hold a slight lead in the series.
Juan Salazar, who helps run the group First and Ten Tailgate, started tailgating at 7 a.m. with his younger brother. He said it’s all part of being a dedicated fan. This year, he’s expecting at least nine or 10 wins for the team and a playoff berth.
“Right now marks the change in the Bears-Packers rivalry,” Salazar said.
Salazar took his outfit seriously. The 44-year-old East Chicago resident wore a face covering emblazoned with the Bears logo and a jersey covered with colorful patches. One labeled him as a “superfan” and another had a block of cheese — a symbol for Green Bay — crossed out. He even had blue and orange sneakers.
As the Bears search for a new stadium, albeit with few conclusive decisions, Salazar said he has “mixed emotions.” On one hand, he said Soldier Field “will always be home,” but he also would like a bigger stadium with more parking for tailgating.
“We definitely do need an upgrade,” he said. “The Bears do need a new area where parking will allow us to tailgate and we don’t have to find a separate location a 30-minute walk away from here.”
For Mike and Chrissey Thompson, a couple from Milwaukee, the rivalry hits close to home. Chrissey, who was born in Illinois, is rooting for the Bears, while Mike showed up in a Packers T-shirt. He said he wants the Bears to keep losing this season, adding that Sunday’s game is a big test for the Packers and quarterback Jordan Love after future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers was traded.
“I’ve never been to (Soldier Field) before, so I’m excited,” Chrissey Thompson, 44, said. “I root for the Packers if they’re not playing the Bears. If they’re playing the Bears, not happening.”