ROSEMONT, Ill. – The past and present collided at this weekend's Bears100 Celebration, and nowhere was that more evident than a private ballroom Friday night at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Before they were introduced to a raucous crowd at the opening ceremonies, more than 200 current and former Bears players gathered together in what event organizers labeled the "blue room."
In one corner, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent shared some of his pass-rushing secrets with present-day superstar outside linebacker Khalil Mack. In another area, former offensive linemen Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza chatted with current linemen Kyle Long and Bobby Massie.
"I was just like a little kid back there in that room when we got here on Friday night," coach Matt Nagy said while participating in a "Leading the Bears" panel discussion Sunday with general manager Ryan Pace and president/CEO Ted Phillips.
"Just to be able to see the legacy of what these players have done from years and years ago, to sit back and take it all in, it's surreal. You can't make it up. It's a night that all of us will never forget. We were so fortunate to be a part of it."
Pace said the Bears' illustrious history really sunk in for him Friday night when he and Nagy spent 45 minutes speaking with Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.
"That's a highlight," Pace said. "That's huge. We have a young team right now and just to see them look at these players and see what this city can be like with success as we get this thing rolling, that's a contagious energy that those guys feel and it's awesome for all of us to experience."
Nagy especially enjoyed seeing Mack speaking with Dent.
"We were all watching it," Nagy said. "Khalil was sitting there taking it all in and it was pretty cool because this is what it's about: it's about learning from some of the greatest that have ever come through here. The players that we have are such good high character people that they don't ever think that they've got all the answers. We have a lot of good players and good people and we're all trying to mix it and put it together."
Pace believes that the current Bears can benefit from the organization's rich history, not only from gleaning advice from former greats but the motivation that comes with trying to live up to their lofty standards.
"It's really a competitive advantage for us to have the history that we have," Pace said. "To see our players and our coaches and our staff interacting with all these great people, to me it just puts a sense of responsibility on yourself. Our players want to leave the jersey in a better place than they found it. We can go on and on and on about the history of the Bears and it just makes you so proud to be part of this. But then there's this tremendous responsibility to carry it on for those guys."
One of the most memorable moments of the weekend came during a defensive line panel when former stars Dan Hampton, Ed O'Bradovich and Tommie Harris urged current Pro Bowl defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to build off last season's success.
"I accept all of your challenges!" Hicks said, eliciting a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
From Day 1, Nagy has encouraged his team to embrace Bears history.
"You're crazy if you don't do that," Nagy said. "We as coaches and our players, we kind of sprinkle it in and let them know. When we first got here last year, we explained how rich this tradition is and what it's all about and how fortunate you need to feel to be in this position, all of us."
Nagy paid tribute to legendary Hall of Famer George Halas by running the first play of last year's season opener in Green Bay out of the "T" formation.
Said Nagy: "That was a way to tell our fans, our city, our organization, 'Thank you. We respect you and we're looking to carry the torch.'"
Get an exclusive look at the first day of legacy panels, autograph signings, and other activities from Bears100 Celebration Weekend featuring current players and Bears legends.