For the 70 players chasing their NFL dreams at this weekend's Bears rookie minicamp, the franchise's storied history came to life right before their eyes Thursday night.
Seven men who combined to play 982 games and 72 seasons with the Bears spent an hour addressing the young hopefuls before dinner in the Halas Hall cafeteria, urging them to make the most of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Alex Brown, Jay Hilgenberg, Steve McMichael, Marcus Robinson, Charles Tillman, Bob Wetoska and James "Big Cat" Williams also described what it was like playing for one of the NFL's founding franchises. First-year Bears coach Matt Nagy invited the alums to speak to the rookies.
Steve McMichael talks with rookie LB Roquan Smith.
"I just think you get real-life stories from guys that have been in these shoes," Nagy said. "It's one thing for coaches to say it; it's another thing to have real-life people come in who have been in this organization and have had good experiences. I think if you look around and see the guys, they're taking it all in. You can't replicate that."
Brown, who appeared in 127 games over eight seasons with the Bears from 2002-09, feels the organization's rich history is what made playing for the franchise so special.
"I did my best to learn as much as I could about the Bears, and nobody's history goes back as far as the Bears because they were here in the beginning," Brown said. "And then understanding what Papa Bear meant to the team. Understanding the players that have come through here that kind of paved the road all the way through for us to be here. It's not like the Jacksonville Jaguars that started in the mid-90s. This was started in the beginning. You can't go further back than the Chicago Bears."
Tillman, who played 156 games over 12 seasons with the Bears from 2003-14, discovered very quickly how important the team is to the city of Chicago.
"The thing that I learned early in my career when I got here is that it's a Bears town," Tillman said. "You've got the Cubs. You've got the White Sox and Blackhawks and the Fire and the Wolves and the Bulls. But at the end of the day it's a Bears town."
McMichael, whose 191 games played over 13 seasons from 1981-93 are the second most in team history, delivered a simple message to the young prospects.
"There's three ways to get on the unfailing road in life," McMichael said. "You show up early, you pay attention and you work your butt off. Now if you're about them three things, you're going to be a success—in life, not just football."