Two days after leaving Soldier Field with a special souvenir from the Bears' home opener, Courtney Fong returned it to who he views as the rightful owner.
Fong, a Bears season ticket holder in his 40s from Northbrook, was sitting in the first row of seats in the north end zone when linebacker Roquan Smith intercepted a Joe Burrow pass and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
Celebrating with his teammates, Smith ran parallel to the stands and then made eye contact with Fong, who sensed that he might have a chance to high-five the Bears star. Instead, Smith flipped the football to an astonished Fong.
After the Bears' 20-17 win, Smith told reporters that it was the first touchdown he had scored since high school and wished he had kept the ball. He added that he hoped he had made the fan's year and wasn't going to try to get the ball back.
When Fong arrived home about 90 minutes after the game, he checked his phone and it was filled with text messages from friends informing him what Smith had said. Fong then watched Smith's press conference on the Bears App and knew he had to return the ball to the linebacker.
"People who knew I had gotten the ball were messaging me, 'Hey, did you see the presser? He referenced you!'" Fong said. "Once I watched it, right away I knew I had to give it back to him. He was really gracious about it, but it was something that belonged to him. I'm happy that I did have this experience, but it really is his ball."
Fong posted a picture of the football on Twitter and Instagram with a message to Smith that read: "You made my year. It was great to be home. Let's connect so I can be the second to return your first NFL TD."
Arrangements were made for Fong to visit Halas Hall Tuesday. Due to NFL COVID-19 protocols, he was unable to meet Smith face-to-face. But Fong returned the ball, and it was reunited with Smith on Wednesday. While at Halas Hall, Fong was presented with a different game-used ball, a personalized autograph jersey from Smith and a pair of gloves.
Fong's favorite thing, however, was a video message he received from Smith thanking him for bringing back the football.
"I really appreciated the personal message from Roquan that he recorded for me," Fong said, "just person-to-person, human-to-human, gratitude on both sides—for him being such a great player and working so hard to give us something to be excited about this year, and then for him to be thankful for the return of the ball. So high fives both ways."