It’s 3:30AM, Saturday morning, and my alarm is going off. I quietly roll out of bed, grab my clothes, and head to the bathroom. Quickly, I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and threw my hair in a baseball cap. By 3:50AM I was at the gas station filling up my gas tank so I could road trip to Nashville, Tennessee for the Bears vs. Titans game. As excited as I was to pick up my best friend from college, and get to see one of my favorite people who are no longer with us on the Bears,I was even more excited to see Len play his first game, after his new contract, even if it was just preseason.
Since before I can remember, I have been the BIGGEST Chicago Bears fan, thanks to my Grandpa Jerry. My Grandpa was one of the longest season ticket holders in Chicago Bears history so it is safe to say that the amount of Bears games I had attended before I met Len could have easily paid for my college tuition, at all three colleges I attended, plus some. I had never worked a Sunday before during football season because I was always watching football with Grandpa whether we were at Soldier Field or at his house. A few years back my Grandpa started going to less games, and I started to sit in Len’s seats instead, rather than my Grandpas. Of course, all he could say every time we talked was, “Why haven’t I met Lenny yet?” He asked for months to meet him, time and time again. Finally, I told him that he could meet Len at Christmas. Fast forward to Christmas Day. My whole family is standing in the kitchen eating appetizers and pouring up drinks when I tell them all I have a big announcement. I said, “I know we are all Bears fans here, but can we please treat Lenny like a normal human being, we are his family for the holidays and I want him to be comfortable.” Everyone laughed like we wont even mention the Bears… Well, sure enough, my Grandpa Jerry was glued to Lens side the WHOLE night talking about George Halas, the T-Formation, and whatever else Bears history you could imagine. I felt so bad, but for Len, it was pretty cool that he was learning the history of a team where he would hopefully be playing for years to come. Following Christmas night, my Grandpa called me and said, “Jenn, it’s Grandpa Jerry” (he had to tell me it was him every time he called). He continued to tell me that Lenny was a great man and how happy he was to have met him saying that he knows he’s going to be in my life for a long time. I just laughed like OH Grandpa, it is time for me to go to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up at my moms, walked to the kitchen and you could tell that there was an awkward vibe going on. My mom had looked at me and told me that my Grandpa was in the hospital and that he had fallen on Christmas night. I asked of course if he was going to be OK but it was unknown at the time. I remember it like it was yesterday, I went to Len’s house to help him pack for his game in Tampa Bay, and then went straight to the hospital. At this point, my Grandpa was conscious, I told him that Len had just left for Tampa and as I was leaving the hospital he said, “I love you, go Bears.” At the moment, I didn’t know, but those were the last words I would ever hear my Grandpa say to me. I told Len to play a good game for my Grandpa, and sure enough, it was one of his best of the season. I again, went back to the hospital after Len’s game and told my Grandpa how well he did. He gave me the thumbs up. For the next week or so, I was an emotional wreck. My Grandpa was not doing well and it came to such a shock to my family and I because no one even knew that he was sick. Finally, on New Years Eve, I gained the best guardian angel a girl could ask for. I remember leaving the hospital and going to Len’s house, where his friends from college were in town. They were supposed to have a “boys night” for New Years and go out in Chicago. Len and I left and went to find him an outfit to wear out and he bought me a milkshake and french fries from Portillo’s (he clearly knows the way to my heart, food). As I laid on his bed watching him get ready to go out with tears still rolling down my face he asked me what I was doing for New Years. I said nothing and you could tell by the look on his face that me being hurt was just breaking his heart. Long story short, this awesome man of mine that was so pumped to have a boys night ended up taking me out with them, so I wasn’t home alone after such a rough day.
For me, it was really weird that my Grandpa begged to meet Len for the longest time. I never understood why until he passed away. My Grandpa was the biggest male figure in my life, he was my best friend, and I think he just knew that Len was someone who was going to be around for a very long time. I felt like he needed to give me his approval, and once he did, he was at peace. My Grandpa Jerry taught me everything I know about Chicago Bears football history and I think he passed me along to someone who has taught me every damn fundamental of football now. I don’t watch football to look to whose catching the ball, or kicking the field goal… I watch Len. I watch his hand placement, his footwork, if he is bending at the waist, or reaching too much…There have been games where I have literally taken notes in my phone like 3rd down, 7 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter, bent at the waist too much, poor hand placement…99% of the time I don’t even know what happened on the play because I am so focused on him, so I always catch myself watching the replays on the big screen after the play is already over. When my Grandpa passed away, a part of me did too, but I think he left me in some pretty great hands.
Last week, I was at work when my phone buzzed. I looked and it was an email…not on my account though, it was on Len’s. He is usually so busy with football that I take care of everything else for him like making sure his bills are paid on time, that appointments are scheduled, and that his email is checked. Except this time, I didn’t open the email… It was from his agent and it read “Leno Extension”. I was at work literally having a heart attack like why didn’t Len tell me that we were so close to a done deal?! I knew it was coming…we had been talking about it since the end of last season, but I just didn’t know when. I casually walked in the house after work and asked Len how his day was and he told me it was cool, talked about what he worked on in practice, and how his meetings were…and then his phone starts ringing, it’s his agent…Len answers the phone saying, “I haven’t even looked at it yet, hold on.” I am across the table from him at this point probably looking like the dang heart eye emojii. They discuss the contract on speaker phone so I can hear whats going on, and next thing you know his agent says I will be there tomorrow to sign it. I am 100% sure that I was more excited than Len. No, not because of the new contract details, but because this means another five seasons in Chicago! I couldn’t believe it, my wish was granted.
As I went to sleep that night, I reminisced on all the great moments in Chicago Bears football that I had shared with my Grandpa Jerry. Whether it was when he was chosen to be Captain of the 4th Phase Fan Club and we got to go on the field (something that I do all the time now, and take for granted), when the Bears made it to the Superbowl, or meeting my idol, Jeff Joniak, that I walk past almost every game like nothing now. As upset as I was that I was not able to share this extra special news with him, I know he’s watching over the two of us screaming GO BEARS! So Chicago, you cant get rid of me yet…or Len, you’re stuck with us for a little bit longer, and if you cant tell, I am SUPER excited about it!
I cant wait to share our journey over the next five plus seasons with you all!