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Bears fans reflect on serendipitous meeting

Brandi Downey and Craig Lydigsen
Brandi Downey and Craig Lydigsen

Attending the Bears-Lions Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field in 2021, Craig Lydigsen experienced a surreal moment that he'll remember for the rest of his life.

Lydigsen and his older brother, Kent, were avid Bears fans while growing up in Illinois. Craig was born on Thanksgiving in 1969, and the two siblings often discussed one day celebrating the holiday at a Bears-Lions game in Detroit.

The two NFC North rivals played there on turkey day in 2014, 2018 and 2019, but the brothers never made it to one of those games. They were always too busy with birthday parties for Craig and family Thanksgiving gatherings.

Tragically, Kent passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Oct. 10, 2021, at his home in Bloomington, Ill., at the age of 58. As you'd suspect, Craig was crushed.

Six weeks later, Lydigsen finally made it to a Bears-Lions Thanksgiving game in Detroit. His girlfriend, Robyn Ladwig, had suggested buying tickets to the division clash to help lift his spirits.

As soon as they settled into their seats at Ford Field, Lydigsen noticed a woman sitting in the row in front of him had a special inscription on the back of her navy Bears jersey. It simply read: "10-10-21."


Wait, wait? That was the exact date his brother had passed away.

Lydigsen's first thought was that Robyn had arranged for the jersey to be worn by someone sitting right in front of them, but he took one look at Robyn's face and knew that wasn't the case.

"I've been to a lot of sporting events," Lydigsen said. "I've seen a lot of things on the back of a jersey. I've seen nicknames and all kinds of things, but never a date. I was looking at Robyn and thinking maybe it was something that was planned, but she was white as a ghost. So, I just stood up and said, 'OK, so you're here with us, Kent.'"

Lydigsen introduced himself to the woman wearing the jersey, Brandi Downey, and explained why the date was so significant to him. Downey in turn told him that her husband had presented her with the jersey to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the date she had been diagnosed with cancer.

"Normally I don't talk about it," said Downey, who battled cancer for years and is now cancer free. "But when Craig said, 'What does that date mean to you,' you could read the emotion on his face. I told him … and we shared a moment. I felt for him. It was very serendipitous meeting that way."

Knowing how much the jersey would mean to Lydigsen, Downey shipped it to him.

The two reunited last Sunday at Soldier Field, guests of Bears vice president Brian McCaskey, where they watched—you guessed it—another game against the Lions. McCaskey invited them down to the field, where they watched pre-game warm-ups and met Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren.

From L-R: Robyn Ladwig, Craig Lydigsen, Brian McCaskey, Kevin Warren, Brandi Downey and her husband Bill Cardwell
From L-R: Robyn Ladwig, Craig Lydigsen, Brian McCaskey, Kevin Warren, Brandi Downey and her husband Bill Cardwell

Craig and Brandi happily retold the story of how fate brought them together. Reminiscing about the day they first met at Ford Field, Lydigsen recalled being convinced that his brother was with him when he saw Downey's jersey.

"There was no other explanation," he said. "I love telling the story, and the reaction's always the same: 'What else could it be?' My brother and I were really close. I'm a big Bears fan—I have a daughter named Peyton—but there's nobody that compares to his loyalty to the Bears."