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Chicago-area players return to home city

Andrew Owens | Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Oct. 28, 2001, Chicago Bears safety Mike Brown intercepted Jeff Garcia’s pass and scampered 33 yards into the end zone to notch a 37-31 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers. A young Chris Salvi was in the stands, taking in the thrill of his first NFL game.

After attending nearly 20 Bears games throughout his life, the Lake Forest, Ill., native will fulfill a lifelong dream Saturday when he runs out of the Soldier Field tunnel in this year’s Shamrock Series game. It’s been nearly 11 years since his first Soldier Field experience, but the memory still vividly plays through the senior safety’s mind.

“As a Bears fan, this is going to be great,” Salvi said. “I’ve been there to watch plenty of games; with the Bears playing in Soldier Field, it’s a great experience.”

Salvi is not the only Irish player who might feel out of place on the field instead of in the stands this weekend. Sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels also lays claim to a unique connection to the historic field. His father, Phillip Daniels, starred as a Bears defensive end from 2000-2003 and recorded 23 sacks during his four seasons.

“I’m excited to be honest,” Daniels said. “Going back home, playing in front of my whole high school is probably going to be there, so it’s definitely exciting.

“We’re playing on a field my dad used to play on also. That’s a crazy feeling. I can’t wait.”

Despite the excitement of playing in the stadium in which he grew up cheering his heroes, Daniels doesn’t expect to feel any differently at kickoff than he would in any other game.

“It will definitely be special, but I think I’ll be able to handle it pretty well,” he said.

With 10 current players hailing from Illinois, this weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for a portion of the Irish roster. But the players said they will only leave Soldier Field with a sweet taste in their mouths if they can avoid a bitter defeat.

“I want it to be a win,” said senior guard Chris Watt when asked what he wants his memory of the game to be.

Watt, a Glen Ellyn, Ill., resident, first attended a Bears game with his father and brother in 1998, but never reached the Catholic League Championship, annually held at Soldier Field.

“[The Chicago-area players] are all really excited, too. DaVaris’ dad played there for a number of seasons and [junior quarterback Tommy Rees'] dad worked in the organization,” Watt said. “It’s kind of home for both of them. So they’re looking forward to getting back there. I’ve got coaches coming, lots of friends from the area and my parents and brother as well.”

Watt said the allure of playing in high-profile games helped attract him to Notre Dame when he was weighing his options in high school.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Coming here as a recruit, seeing that I was playing in Dublin and at Soldier Field my senior year was nice. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to since I came here.”

 

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu