Bears fans line up for hours to get Hester's autograph
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Rockford's Kelly Spera, brother Dan Spera and Daxx Spera, 15, started a line to get Devin Hester's autograph at Cherryvale Mall.
The Chicago Bears return specialist/converted receiver wasn't expected at Got Quarters until 5 p.m.
"First of all," Kelly said, "I wanted a good signature."
That made sense. Considering 750 people had bought $85 tickets to get an autograph, meet the Bears' blossoming star, take his picture and have the autograph verified by Global Authentication Inc., his penmanship might be a bit illegible by night's end.
And it turned out to be an evening that extended longer than planned. Hester's limo, which also transported his brown pit bull, arrived about an hour late.
Finally, Hester appeared, with a round of applause greeting him.
"Second of all," Kelly said in explaining her early arrival, "I need to be out of here by 6 (p.m.)."
OK, so she was a little late. No one, not even her, seemed to mind.
"I'm a huge Bears fan," she said. "Walter Payton's my hero, and Devin Hester is following suit, that's for sure. He's a great player."
Worth standing in line for hours, and hours, to get an autograph. Kelly had Hester sign a Bears helmet worn in an actual game, although she didn't know by whom. She got it at an auction after a Bears game. Dan and Daxx had Bears jerseys to be Sharpied.
Kelly calls herself a collector.
"You notice that by going into her basement," Dan said. "She has hundreds of thousands of items."
Dan thought the time spent waiting was time well spent.
"They'll be here as long waiting," he said about the people behind him in line.
They were soon joined in line by Kevin Barnard, 20, of Loves Park, and Dominic Nicosia, 13, of Roscoe. Barnard had a jersey to be signed and Nicosia a picture.
Mark Wilkerson and son, Josh, 13, of South Beloit, were among the first people through the line. They got Hester to sign his "DH 23" on a Bears helmet.
Josh, mind you, was wearing an Indianapolis Colts jersey 29 for running back Joseph Addai.
"I like him," Josh said of Hester. "He's good."
Said Mark: "We're football fans -- not just one-team fans."
There were fans with assorted Bears jerseys in a line that spread throughout half of the upper level. Miami Hurricane jerseys and hats were quite prominent as well, as that's where Hester went to college.
Then there was Pamela Wilson. She was easy to spot -- she had on an authentic Green Bay Packers jacket.
"A few people made comments," said Wilson, from Byron. "I walked through Penney's and someone said you're wearing the wrong jacket. I said, 'Oh, no I'm not. I'm wearing it proudly.'"
Bears fans nearby took it easy on her after she explained she was there to get Hester's autograph for her son, Devyn, for his upcoming 10th birthday.
The were a couple reasons for Hester being in town, other than to make him money. First, Gary Larson of Got Quarters wants Chicago athletes "to become familiar with and aware of Rockford." He said he hopes to hold a similar event four or five times this year.
"We've gotten the Cubs well aware," he said, referring to the annual Cubs Caravan that showed up from 1981-2007.
That brings us to the other reason -- the caravan is not coming this year, and it has been a major fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Rockford.
The caravan used to raise between $8,000 to $10,000 for the club. This event was expected to raise a similar amount. Larson said he was going to donate the proceeds to the club after expenses.
An appreciative Chad Bryden, the club's vice president of development, said he couldn't believe what he saw when he parked his car.
"There were Bears stickers and license plate holders everywhere," he said.
Said Jim Bryden, Chad's father and Cubs Caravan organizer: "We're very grateful."
Randy Garland, the club's director of marketing, called the event "a gift. It's such a wonderful supplement."
Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.