(670 The Score) Courtney Fong was already having a great Sunday. A season-ticket holder (and Northwestern grad!) from the north suburbs, he explained that his plan for the Bears-Bengals game at Soldier Field was just to have a good time with a buddy of his who had just gotten married. Fong thought that end zone tickets would make for a great wedding gift -- his normal season tickets are closer to the sidelines -- and wanted to make his friend’s first Bears game an unforgettable experience. Filing into the north end zone’s first row, life was already pretty good.
“Being in the front row, that was pretty cool,” Fong said. “Little harder to see the depth of the field, but we could see everything was coming right at us. Nothing better than seeing a game live -- you can see everything. We were even picking up on how they were practicing, watching Andy Dalton trying to work out his knee, all those things.”
Then early in the fourth quarter, Bears linebacker Roquan Smith stepped in front of a short pass by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow at the hashmarks. Smith slipped the running back’s tackle, swatted Burrow aside and ran 55 yards into the end zone as Soldier Field erupted around him. While waiting for his teammates to catch up with him, Smith beelined for the stands and ended up giving the football away to Fong.
“At that point, he just started looking up and we locked eyes,” Fong said. “And I guess he saw me and gave it to me ... he almost put it in my hands, we were that close. And I was kind of reaching over too and hoping he would. It’s not like I wasn’t trying for the ball.
“I was really just excited that they scored. I mean, our offense was kind of rough, so I was just so happy that we scored and put some distance between us and the Bengals.”
Round after round of high-fives followed, all the way up to – and even a little past – the moment the Bears sealed their 20-17 win. Fong and his friend spent the time passing the ball around with others in their section, letting any and all curious fans take a look at their prized possession. (For what it’s worth, Fong was never concerned about getting it back. “We’re all here,” he said, “and Twitter would have found them.”) The rest of their afternoon was less eventful – no one from the Bears ever approached Fong while he was at Soldier Field. It wasn’t until later on Sunday evening that he realized something was up.
“I posted in our season-ticket holder group that I got a ball," Fong said. "Got a bunch of virtual high-fives and then I drove home. And I was in the car for like an hour-and-a-half, because it takes so long to get out of there – so I didn’t check my messages until I got home. And that’s when people were saying, ‘Hey, did you see the press conference?’"
After listening to Smith admit that “in the moment, I wish I would have kept it,” Fong made up his mind. Determined to get the ball back in Smith’s hands and hoping to get the attention of the team, he reached out on social media, which quickly got picked up by Bears Twitter. The two sides have communicated already, though Fong says all their conversations are still preliminary and haven’t extended beyond “a couple texts.” Should he be given the opportunity to return the ball himself, Fong said that he’d simply congratulate Smith on a great game and ask that he “say hi to your dog for me.”
“It’s (Smith's) ball, and I’ve just regretted taking it,” he added. “It made the experience for me, and hopefully we can connect and I can give it back to him. I’m happy to do that. That’s a big thing, especially on the defensive side, not scoring a ton of TDs. And this was his first (in the NFL), that’s what people told me.
“I’m happy for him to have it and one day, maybe Canton’s going to ask for it too.”
Cam Ellis is a writer for 670 The Score and Audacy Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KingsleyEllis.