Eddie Jackson was amazed when he returned to the newly-renovated Halas Hall earlier this year. Mostly because it felt like he was back in college.
“I feel like they're giving Alabama a run for their money,” the Bears’ All-Pro safety said.
Scoff all you want at Jackson — who played at Alabama — comparing an NFL team’s facility to a college one. But facilities are key to top-level college football recruiting. If you can’t entice players with a bigger paycheck than a competitor, the bells and whistles of a new facility often can.
So Jackson's comparison, actually, was a massive compliment.
No longer does Halas Hall feel out-dated or small. The Bears offered a tour of the facility to media Thursday morning, and it was plain to see how Jackson could draw a line from Tuscaloosa to Lake Forest.
There’s a slick, large weight room — no longer do players have to walk or hop on a team shuttle to the Payton Center (the team’s indoor practice facility) to lift, as they did last year. The training room is state of the art, and has a few hydrotherapy pools featuring advanced technology for recovery and injury prevention.
The locker room doesn’t feel cramped. Around nearly every corner is a nutrition station. Each unit’s individual meeting room rings around a 20-yard indoor turf field, so if coaches show something on film and want to physically demonstrate something, all that coach needs to do is walk out the door with his players.
Halas Hall weight room. No longer in the Payton Center practice bubble! pic.twitter.com/dp6HfiKks9— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 29, 2019
The new locker room at Halas Hall is a lot bigger. No basketball hoop in here though. pic.twitter.com/SgG6jsiYWC— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 29, 2019
And furthermore: The renovations to Halas Hall not only highlight the Bears’ rich history, but it feels cool, too. Some places in it feel like Google headquarters. Others feel like a powerhouse college football program's facility. The Bears struck a good balance.
“What I think we’re starting to realize now is in free agency, you end up having some guys that are going and comparing our facility to what they just came from or what they’re looking at currently and it helps put them over the top,” coach Matt Nagy said. “… I’ve talked to some people that have been in a lot of different facilities in the NFL and they’re talking about this being the best one.”
Still, the Bears won 12 games a year ago while dealing with the inconvenience of persistent construction going on around Halas Hall. A first-class facility certainly won’t hurt the Bears’ chances of repeating as NFC North champions, but it won’t win them the division, either.
The Bears will begin season No. 100 in the NFL with plenty of good vibes, from four returning All-Pros to the reigning NFL coach of the year to a quarterback in which the entire building believes. And those good vibes are only accentuated by being able to walk into a state-of-the-art facility every day.
“This is all stuff that I think helps make our coaches better, it helps make our players better because it's new,” Nagy said. “And there's a lot of reasons behind what we're doing. And then I think more than anything I think all of us, you want to appreciate coming to work. And if you don't, or if your environment is just a little bit off, it can sometimes damper where you're at no matter what you're doing. When you all come through here and walk through here, if you're in a bad mood you're not really that human.”