BOURBONNAIS | Forget what the Las Vegas bookies are saying about the 2015 Bears, how a seven-win season might even be a stretch.

Region fans are always hopeful.

Michael Andrisko and his mother, Kathleen Patz, both of DeMotte, were at Olivet Nazarene University last week as their Bears opened training camp.

Picture a kid flying down the stairs on Christmas morning, all smiles and giggles. That was Michael and Kathleen.

"Getting the autographs and seeing the players up close is the hook for me," said Michael, wearing his No. 17 Alshon Jeffery jersey. "Can't afford season tickets but, oh geez, I've been a Bears fan all my life.

"I think they're gonna improve but (Jay) Cutler is always a concern. I'm getting some gray hair from him."

Kathleen a 1975 North Newton grad, Michael a '96 alum.

"I've never liked the Colts; always been a Bears fan. Being from Northwest Indiana, I'm closer to Chicago," he said.

Five years ago, Michael invited Kathleen to take the 45-minute drive to Bears camp with him. It was unforgettable.

"I loved it. First year, I got Matt Forte's autograph and that was the highlight of my life," she said. "Last year, I got Robbie Gould's. It's nice meeting the players up close and personal and when you get a smile from them and they thank you for coming out, that makes you feel really good."

On game day, Michael and Mom text each other on almost every play. Occasionally, she'll put on a pot of chili and invite him over to watch.

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"We try to use nice language," she said of the losses.

They arrived in Bourbonnais at 5:30 Thursday morning, Day 1 of camp, came straight to the field and got in line -- four hours before practice.

Also among the crowd that morning was Maureen Ball, a 2003 Portage grad, with her uncle Brian, a resident at Misericordia in Chicago.

"He loves the Bears. We were here four years ago and it was really hot in the middle of the day," Maureen said. "I figured this is the first day, it wouldn't be as crowded, so we came."

Brian sat in a chair behind a roped off area just feet from the practice field, with Maureen at his side.

He was proudly wearing the cap linebacker Sam Acho gave him during a recent visit to Misericordia, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.

"And years ago, (former coach) Lovie Smith bought one of Brian's paintings. He's a pretty good painter," Maureen said. "I would love to take my uncle to a game, but tickets are expensive.

"We have to save our pennies."

After practice, Maureen and Brian nudged closer to the ropes as players walked off the field, most stopping to sign anything within reason.

The look of anticipation and absolute joy on Uncle Brian's face told the story this day.


Sports Director

Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.