New Bear Marshall a hit at fan fest

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall first showed the fans what they came out to see from him at Family Fest at Soldier Field on Friday.

He then delivered what they wanted to hear.

Marshall excited the crowd with a handful of acrobatic catches in the end zone throughout the night’s practice. On one, he snatched the ball from the air as two defenders converged on him in the back of the end zone.

After the two-hour practice, Marshall was interviewed over the stadium’s speakers, and he spoke the two words every Bears fan craves to hear.

“It’s just between us, keep it here -- a Super Bowl,” Marshall said as the crowd cheered.

Fireworks followed Marshall’s proclamation, and Bears fans, which were announced as paid crowd of 27,352, left Solider Field in smiles. It was a different sight than a year ago when Family Fest had to be cancelled because of the field’s poor condition.

Bears coach Lovie Smith described the field as being in “great shape,” and said he witnessed not only an enthusiasm from the fans, but also his players being at Soldier Field.

“When you get here, the guys hyperventilate almost from the start being on the field,” Smith said. “You know we have great fans. It’s just a different environment when you come practice here as opposed to being on the practice field at Bourbonnais.”

Marshall felt a jolt by playing before so many fans. He was also pleased to be quickly made to feel at home.

“I love it, a lot of excitement, a lot of electricity,” Marshall said of Solider Field. “I have never been welcomed so warm before, so this is exciting.

“At this point, everybody’s bodies are hurting (during training camp.) Sometimes the energy can be a little down at camp. When you get a chance to play in an atmosphere like this or practice in an atmosphere like this, it gives you the extra juice to get through the day and it feels like a game. We approached it as such, and I think it was a good day for both sides of the ball.”

The addition of Marshall this season has caused an increase Bears fans’ expectations. Jeff Leif, a 26-year-old from Mokena, Ill., was among the many to stand in long lines at the Bears pro shop to purchase a Marshall jersey.

“This is the only place I could find it or I would have bought it sooner,” Leif said. “I can’t remember being this optimistic about a Bears team, maybe since 1985. We’ve never had a quarterback as good as Jay Cutler. We’ve never had a wide receiver as good as Brandon Marshall.”

Jaime Avalos also believed more in the Bears this season because of Marshall.

“We have an upside big time because of Marshall coming in,” said the 37-year-old Avalos from Chicago. “I’m looking forward to that Cutler-Marshall combo. There was potential last year before the injuries. This year I would say 11-5. High hopes.”

Marshall was also the first name out of 41-year-old Michael Simmons’ mouth when he talked about his optimism for the Bears.

“I think they’re going to be pretty good this year with the addition of Brandon Marshall and just looking what they got,” Simmons said. “I would say this is different than years past. I’m a Bears fan, I’m always optimistic, but I really think we got a shot this year.”