ROSEMONT, Ill. – A celebration featuring the largest gathering of current and former Bears in history kicked off in electrifying fashion Friday night.
The Bears100 Celebration Weekend began with a raucous opening ceremony during which more than 200 players were introduced to their adoring fans.
The group included six Hall of Famers and a slew of All-Pros and Pro Bowlers from the last six decades of Bears football, including the entire current team as well as the last two NFL championship squads in 1963 and 1985.
The once-in-a-lifetime event commemorating the Bears' 100th season runs through Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
"It's just a really special time," said Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary. "It's great seeing so many guys I played with. Some of the guys I haven't seen in a very long time. It's just great to see everybody."
When the players arrived for Friday's festivities, they walked an "orange carpet" and then gathered in a private ballroom, where they reminisced and shared hugs, handshakes, stories and a lot of laughs.
"It kind of is a family reunion," Singletary said. "It's just guys that you love, guys that you played in the trenches with and guys that you admired and now you have a chance to see them again in a different light."
The first players announced to the crowd were those who suited up for the Bears in the 1960s, including members of the 1963 title team. One of those individuals was Johnny Morris, who played 10 seasons with the Bears from 1958-67 and remains the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 5,059 yards.
"I felt I had to be here because the Bears, they took me when nobody else had much interest," said Morris, who arrived in Chicago in 1958 as a 12th-round draft pick. "I feel indebted to that. That's why I'm here."
As you'd expect, members of the famed 1985 Bears drew some of the loudest cheers from the more than 6,000 fans in attendance.
"It's wonderful coming back here, seeing the guys and socializing," said former defensive tackle/fullback William "Refrigerator" Perry. "It's great being part of the Bears and coming back, enjoying yourself and having a little fun."
Devin Hester also enjoyed his return—pun intended—to Chicago. The record-breaking return specialist, who played eight seasons with the Bears from 2006-13, drew a thunderous ovation.
"It's an honor to be back, not only just for my decade but the decades before me," Hester said. "For all of us to bond together as a family and to cherish this moment, this is a big honor to reach 100."
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey marveled at the number of fans who attended Friday night's opening ceremonies.
"It's just very gratifying and humbling and we're just so appreciative of the great support of Bears fans," McCaskey said. "Now we need to reward that support with some hardware."
After the former players were introduced, they were followed by the current team, which drew loud cheers after winning the NFC North last season. Near the end of the festivities, all 90 players danced Club Dub-style on stage.
McCaskey believes that the current team will benefit from participating in this weekend's celebration.
"It's great for them to see the players who came before them and it's great for them to see the passion of these fans," McCaskey said.
The Bears100 Celebration Weekend will continue through Sunday and feature free autograph sessions, photo opportunities, panel discussions, memorabilia and merchandise sales, interactive games, kids activities and a walk-though Bears history zone.
Check out exclusive photos from the opening night of the Bears100 Celebration Weekend including Orange Carpet and backstage photos with former and current Bears players.