‘Immortality:' How Caleb Williams went from Bears skeptic to franchise savior

‘Immortality:' How Caleb Williams went from Bears skeptic to franchise savior originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

DETROIT -- You can understand why Caleb Williams was initially skeptical of the team that held his NFL future in the palm of their hands.

The Bears, after all, don't have a sterling reputation for developing quarterbacks or producing winning football. If drafting a transcendent quarterback prospect was like a job interview, the Bears would have shown up with a resume akin to a 16-year-old grocery clerk applying to be vice president of a Fortune 500 company.

Williams has worked the past 12 years to be the No. 1 overall pick. When he saw the Bears land the top selection via a trade with the Carolina Panthers, he was understandably reticent about his future.

"When you only meet with somebody for 10 minutes and the history, like I haven’t known much about the Bears," Williams told NBC Sports Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday after the Bears drafted him at No. 1 overall. "The history since I’ve been alive hasn’t been necessarily where they are winning big games and Super Bowls and things like that."

After Williams and the Bears met at the combine in late February, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner said he wanted to know if the Bears really "wanted to win."

Williams and his camp wanted honesty from general manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberlfus, and the Bears about why the franchise had been unable to develop a quarterback and how they planned for Williams not to be the latest in a long line of quarterback flops in Chicago.

Williams said the Bears' power brokers told him the truth about the franchise's failures and laid out a plan to help him be the one that changes that.

“What they told me was that you know, they haven’t always put people in the right position, and that’s their fault," Williams said. "The plan is to change that around. As y’all have seen, the new stadium. As y’all have seen, the coaches that they have brought here, the executive staffs.Things like that. Bringing people like that from winning cultures and winning places that want to win, and as a holistic family of the Bears but also stadium, team, coaches, executive staff. Everybody wanting to win and change the culture.”

From their initial meeting at the combine, the Bears set out to show Williams that things in Chicago were different. They added offensive weapons in wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back D'Andre Swift, and tight end Gerald Everett. Before meeting Williams, they hired an entirely new offensive staff, headlined by respected offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and passing game coordinator Thomas Brown. President Kevin Warren has been reshaping the front office with high-level hires from across the NFL.

Williams admits he was initially skeptical of his potential future in Chicago. But he never closed himself off to the idea of being a Bear, and the Bears did their part in selling him that they were the right place for him.

That crystallized for Williams after his top-30 visit to Halas Hall.

"I went into it with an open mindset," Williams said. "When I got there and got around everybody – players, coaches, executive staff – and I went from there and I fell in love with it. I enjoyed it. I was comfortable. When I left there, I hopped on a call and said I’m OK being here. This is going to be alright. We’re going to do it and we’re going to have fun doing it.”

When commissioner Roger Goodell called Williams' name to open the 2024 draft Thursday in Detroit, the 22-year-old quarterback took a deep breath and let out a primal roar. It was equal parts celebration and proclamation.

Williams is here. He's here at the right time for a franchise that has never found a way to mary proper circumstances with transcendent talent.

But this moment is not like other moments in Bears history. It's a rare opportunity to transform a franchise that has spent the last 40 years swallowed by a tidal wave of dysfunction and mediocrity.

This is Williams' time -- a time to embrace the possibility and manifest a winning era of Bears football.

"To be the greatest or to be able to sit at the table," Williams said of what he sees for himself and the Bears at the end of a journey that began Thursday. "You put dreams and goals in front of you that you aren’t able to reach within a year or two, and you try to go get ‘em. You have to consistently not get tired with consistency. Being able to be the same guy, being able to go in there and lead the guys and hold them accountable, and they hold me accountable to go get it. Having those team goals. The only way you can reach them.

"My last goal is immortality. The only way to reach that is winning championships. That’s big for me and something that is the reason I play the game. I’m excited."

From Bears skeptic to savior.

Caleb Williams finally arrived Thursday, and things might never be the same in Chicago.

At least, that's the vision.

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