Shakeia Taylor: ‘I’m a big Caleb believer.’ Hope blooms once again for Bears fans.

CHICAGO — Just as the tulips blooming around Chicago every spring bring the promise of summer, this year’s NFL draft seemed to bring the promise of change for Bears fans.

As the saying goes, hope springs eternal.

Thursday night while the front office assembled at Halas Hall, prepared to take USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick, fans assembled at Soldier Field buzzed with excitement.

One fan dropped down as if he was doing a push-up and kissed the stadium grass.

“This is where (Williams) and the Bears are gonna lead us to the playoffs,” he said before moving on to participate in the quarterback skills game setup on the field.

Adults and children alike ran, played and took selfies as they eagerly awaited the official start of the draft event in Detroit. Party anthems blasted through the stadium and fans lined up to participate in games and take pictures with the team’s mascot, Staley Da Bear.

Among a sea of navy and orange jerseys, a few USC cardinal and gold No. 13 jerseys stood out. Despite the wintry feel in the stadium, fans were grinning and bearing it. Unlike the home games played a few months ago here, this time it seemed worth it.

Jake Schleicher, 26, of Frankfort has spent much of his life watching the Bears lose.

“I’m a big Caleb believer and I think he’s gonna be the bomb,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “Just give him some time. He’s gonna be great. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. I really hope it works out.”

Schleicher, trying to temper his expectations somewhat, said for Williams’ first season, he’d like to see the Bears win nine games and make a playoff push.

Darren and Stephanie Ballard of Mokena, also lifelong Bears fans, attended the draft party with their friend David Bresnahan. The three were excited about the potential coming to the team with the first-round picks and looking forward to hanging out for games next season.

“I think (Williams) is going to be awesome. He’d be the best quarterback we’ve ever had — hopefully,” Darren said smiling.

“I think it’s going to be a big turning point. I believe the Bears know what they’re doing and they know what they want to do,” Bresnahan, a fan of 59 years, added. “This is our chance to go to the playoffs even though we’ll have a rookie quarterback. I actually believe this would be our best chance. I’m ready to shake our losing reputation.”

After two hours of growing anticipation, the moment finally arrived. All of the TVs on the concourse and video boards above the field were tuned to ESPN. All eyes turned to the screens and the music was silenced. For a moment, you could have heard a pin drop.

When the Lions, the draft city’s host team, were shown, the stadium booed – because even in a celebration, there’s time for hating a division rival.

As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared on the screen again, the stadium quieted once more. Cameras and phones were held in the air. A few fans next to me began to quietly whisper-chant Williams’ name. A young girl behind me, clearly tired of waiting, turned to her dad and asked, “Is it time?”

It was time.

Goodell said the words they’d been waiting to hear, “With the first pick in the 2024 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears select Caleb Williams, quarterback, Southern California.”

As Williams cheered and yelled as he approached the stage, so did the fans assembled on a cold Thursday night in Chicago. They were handshakes, high fives and hugs. Some of those tears might not have been from the crisp air, but they’ll never tell.

Eight picks after saying Williams’ name, Goodell returned to the podium with the No. 9 pick from the Bears: Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze. He’ll be another offensive weapon for the rookie QB and another bright spot for fans.

Like those tulips across the city, hope has bloomed once again at Soldier Field.