LAKE FOREST – Jordan Mills could have worn any NFL jersey as a kid growing up in Louisiana.
But Mills didn’t want to wear any jersey. He wanted to wear a New Orleans Saints jersey.
And, unfortunately for Mills, the Saints were pretty bad. His options were limited.
“I had an Aaron Brooks jersey,” Mills said with a smile, remembering the quarterback who led the Saints to one winning record in five seasons as a starter.
Surely, some of you understand.
Who among you wore a Rex Grossman jersey? Cade McNown? Shane Matthews?
But the Bears and the Saints are much better now than they were when the ball dropped on the new century. Expect plenty of scoring as Drew Brees and the Saints match up against Jay Cutler and the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
The stands will be packed with 60,000-plus fans wearing Bears gear, but safety Craig Steltz will spend his day searching for opponents in black and gold. Steltz was born in Metairie, La., and played for Louisiana State, and the symbol on the Saints helmet still reminds him of home.
“The Fleur-de-Lis means something New Orleans to me,” said Steltz, already in his sixth season with the Bears. “But the Saints don’t.”
Steltz, Mills, Matt Forte and Michael Ford grew up in Louisiana, and a fifth, Charles Tillman, played football at Louisiana-Lafayette. By comparison, seven players come from California, six players from Texas and four from Florida.
Population-wise, Louisiana doesn’t stack up to the other states. So what makes kids from Cajun Country so good at football?
“I’ll always say that Louisiana high school football is some of the best in the country,” Steltz said.
Ford agreed. He was born in Leesville, La., and played running back at LSU.
“Being from the South, it’s tradition,” Ford said. “You play football year-round. It’s not like the North. I don’t think y’all have spring ball up here.”
Sure we do. It’s called baseball.
But one who grows up in Louisiana is not required to become a Saints fan. The 1990s and early 2000s largely marked the era of the “New Orleans ’Aints,” and it wasn’t until Sean Payton and Drew Brees’ arrival in 2006 that wins started to pile up.
Was Ford a die-hard fan with a No. 2 Brooks jersey, like his teammate Mills?
“Never,” Ford said with a laugh. “Never.
“My favorite player all-time is Barry Sanders. It’s the only jersey I ever wore.”
Well, sure. It’s easy to cheer for one of the best who ever played the game.
So, Mills was left to fend for himself in the locker room at Halas Hall.
Sure, he supported a bad team as a kid. But that’s what makes a great fan.
At least, a great former fan.
“I grew up watching the Saints every Sunday,” Mills said. “From when they weren’t doing so good until they won the Super Bowl, I’ve been a Saints fan.
“But I’m a Bear now. It’s all about the Chicago Bears.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.