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Draft Diaries: Bears' International Fan of the Year
Follow along as the Bears' inaugural International Fan of the Year, James Gowers from the United Kingdom, documents the opportunity of a lifetime during all three days of the 2024 NFL Draft. 
By Gabby Hajduk May 04, 2024
Photographs By Gregory Payan/AP

The Bears' inaugural International Fan of the Year, James Gowers from the United Kingdom, documented what he described as "one of the best weeks of my life" at the 2024 NFL Draft, which included selfies with Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze, a meet-and-greet with commissioner Roger Goodell and announcing the selection of punter Tory Taylor.

My experience at the draft was life changing. The entire week was absolutely mental and I loved every minute of it. I'm still in shock from it all, to be honest.

I never expected to be picked as the Bears' International Fan of the Year. There are so many deserving fans around the world, so it was such an honor and a privilege to represent the Bears. With the team holding the No. 1 and No. 9 picks and announcing a game in London this fall, I kept telling everyone the entire weekend that there was no better time to receive this honor.

We crammed in so much during a seven-day stretch, starting with a trip to Chicago Monday, April 22. The Bears invited me out to Halas Hall before I traveled to Detroit so I could see the facility and meet with members of the organization. While the draft was incredible, being at Halas Hall was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


I felt incredibly lucky to meet President & CEO Kevin Warren and chairman George H. McCaskey. I also finally got to meet Jack Sanborn. That was a special moment since he was the one who initially surprised me with the International Fan of the Year honor.


Wednesday morning, I flew to Detroit with my best mate, Phil, who is also a huge Bears fan. The draft festivities started that evening for the Inner Circle fans —a group of 15 diehard fans who are selected to sit in a special section right in front of the draft stage. Every team's International Fan of the Year was included in their group.

Our first stop was a Q&A with commissioner Roger Goodell. When I walked into the room, my customized jersey was there waiting for me. All of the Inner Circle fans from each team got to meet and chat with Goodell, who talked about the draft and upcoming plans for more international growth in the NFL, and answered all of our questions.


I was surprised he gave up so much of his time during probably the busiest week of his calendar. After answering all the tough questions from fans, he stayed to meet with every group, take pictures and sign our jerseys. It was quite an honor to meet him.

Having my jersey signed by the commissioner is a lifelong memory I'll always cherish. I plan to get the jersey framed and displayed in my room.


After Goodell left, I had time to meet the other teams' International Fan of the Year. It was so cool to connect with everyone and just learn about other fandoms.


We had an early start to a long day Thursday. At 9:00 a.m ET, we received a tour of the entire draft site. We went through the stage and the green room – just like the draftees would later that night – saw where the jerseys are printed backstage and made stops at the New Era and Nike areas. Seeing where the magic of the night happens was such a cool experience.


After about an hour of touring the area, we had time to regroup before walking the red carpet at 4:00 p.m. That experience was phenomenal. I felt like a real celebrity.


Then it was go time. We headed to the Inner Circle about two hours before the draft started. It was fun to have some time to mingle with the other diehard fans. I got to meet so many people, including Kyle Brandt, one of the hosts of Good Morning Football. The vibes were definitely high leading into the draft.

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The draft started right at 8:00 p.m. and we had to wait about 10 minutes before our pick was put in. The Bears obviously picked Caleb and the whole section went absolutely mental.

After Caleb walked across the stage and received his jersey from Goodell, he came down to the floor to take a selfie with all of us. He immediately said, "everybody say 'Da Bears' at once." We all did and it was absolutely crazy.

It was so cool to see this guy who is going to be the future star of our team in person right after the biggest moment of his life. In the selfie, you can see the sea of people in the background. and for me to be at the very front of the stage was so incredible.


Less than an hour later, we were back on the clock. This time, no one knew what we were going to do at No. 9. When Rome Odunze was announced, we all lost it again.

Rome also came over to take the selfie with us, which was so fun. Being one of the first people to meet our picks was a memory I'll never forget.


Those moments capped off a really, really good night one of the draft, and before we left, our group obviously had to finish with "Bear Down, Chicago Bears."

Friday was more of a quiet day for us since we only had one third-round selection. To start the afternoon, we got a tour of the draft headquarters, where the picks are sent in and the announcements are finalized. It was cool to see how that entire operation went down.

The night was still so enjoyable because we were just cheering everyone on and having a good time while waiting for our pick. I was able to spend more time getting to know the other Bears fans there and feel more connected to everyone.


By the time our pick happened at No. 75, we were so excited. When Kiran Amegadjie was announced, our group went ballistic because we had to wait so long.

I also got to meet Bears legends Anthony "Spice" Adams and Charles "Peanut" Tillman, who were both so cool.

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Finally, Saturday came around. I knew it would be such a special day because I was given the opportunity to announce our fourth-round pick. I was so worried all day that we would trade it away, so I'm grateful Ryan Poles didn't move.

A couple picks prior to No. 122, I went backstage to prepare for the selection. Surprisingly, I only felt a little nervous. I walked out to boos straight away since we were in Detroit, but I was able to play into that a bit and have the villain role which was fun. I gave it to Lions fans too, so I hope I made the Bears fandom proud.


I finally announced that the Bears selected Australian punter Tory Taylor with pick 122. It's crazy to say I made a pick for the Chicago Bears. That was such an unforgettable experience and a real pinch-me moment. I was just high on emotion after the pick.

I'm just so grateful for this entire experience. It was absolutely perfect. I certainly made the most out of every moment because I knew I'd never have an opportunity like that again. I made sure to savor every moment and soak it all in.

I'm so happy to have shared the weekend with Phil too. We both have always loved the draft so much. Before I knew I was selected as the International Fan of the Year, Phil and I planned to watch the draft at my house. We always say the draft is our Super Bowl — that's how much we enjoy it.

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