Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze bring dawn of new era for Bears after home run draft night

Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze have no small plans for their careers in Chicago

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DETROIT -- It took several massive strokes of NFL fate for the Bears to land in the position they found themselves to start Thursday night, holding the No. 1 overall pick and a lottery ticket to draft USC star quarterback Caleb Williams.

The football gods have smiled on general manager Ryan Poles' rebuild over the past year, but that good fortune didn't stop when the Bears turned in the card with Williams' name on it to start the 2024 draft.

The Bears have coveted Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze since early in the draft process. Odunze's name was at the top of their board alongside Williams, and they hoped they'd find a way to pair the young quarterback and wide receiver together.

That was going to take some good fortune, with the Arizona Cardinals (No. 4), New York Giants (No. 6), the Tennessee Titans (No. 7), and the Atlanta Falcons (No. 8) all potentially in the market to draft one of the top three receivers.

That fortune arrived when the Titans selected offensive tackle JC Latham, and the Falcons stunned everyone by drafting quarterback Michael Penix at No. 8, which allowed Odunze to fall into the Bears' lap at No. 9.

Or perhaps all they needed was their potentially transcendent new quarterback to manifest a pairing he desperately wanted.

"I couldn’t tell you. I don’t think of it like that," Williams told NBC Sports Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times after the Bears drafted him and Odunze on Thursday. "But a lot of times, I do kind of put things out there for myself. Or things like today. I was wishing for Rome Odunze to my people. And my family. That he’d be my teammate. And I guess it came true. I know I’m excited. He’s excited. Can’t wait."

Williams and Odunze worked out last week in Los Angeles with DJ Moore and Keenan Allen and found themselves on the same flight to Detroit on Tuesday.

Both players called it a coincidence Wednesday. It no longer felt like that Thursday when both were wearing Bears draft hats, plotting for a new era in Chicago.

"I think so," Odunze said when asked if his pairing with Williams in Chicago was meant to be. "When you take that with Devin Hester being my favorite player of all time and my first jersey being a Brian Urlacher jersey, there's a lot of things out there that you could say were God's plan. I think it was in the air. I think it was manifested, and it came to fruition."

In drafting Williams and Odunze on Thursday, the Bears left the first round as the clear big winners. It was a home run and a franchise-defining night in Chicago.

"If you would have told me we'd end up with Calen and Rome two weeks ago, I would've said you're crazy," general manager Ryan Poles said after Round 1 at Halas Hall.

The Bears not only have the franchise quarterback they have spent 40 years searching for but were able to pair him with the perfect weapon eight picks later.

Williams understands the expectations that await him as the supposed franchise savior.

They pale in comparison to the lofty goals he has set for himself since he was a 10-year-old who decided he wanted to pour every ounce of his being into being the No. 1 overall pick and eventually a Hall of Famer.

"To be the greatest and to be able to sit at the table," Williams said of his vision for his Bears career. "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."

Having a quarterback who is so vocal about his historic goals, including surpassing Tom Brady by winning eight Super Bowl titles, is the type of bar-raising attitude the Bears have needed for quite some time.

It also means that much will be expected of Odunze, whom the Bears drafted to be forever linked with Williams.

That's something Odunze is eager to embrace.

"I think he speaks it into existence," Odunze said of Williams. "I think that comes from a confidence in himself and the people around him to continue to have success that is very unique to himself. I see myself in that same fashion. I want to go out there and do legendary things, and that takes legendary goals and not the shyness to go out there and say that you're going to go out there and go do those things.

"I think it's going to be a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work and I'm 100 percent down for it," Odunze continued later. "If you're going to play this game, why not play it to be one of the greats. I think that's the mindset that I have and I think he shares that same mindset. ... If you're going to be play this game, why not be the best to ever do it. It's easier for a quarterback to do that than a receiver, right? Maybe I'll be second best behind Caleb."

For decades, the Bears have been a franchise built around defense. A team unable to find or develop a quarterback. A city labeled as the place where good receivers "go to die."

But maybe things can change. Maybe curses are meant to be broken, and narratives flipped.

In 75 minutes on Sunday, everything might have changed for the Bears.

Call it destiny. Call it coincidence. Talk of manifestation and visualization if you want.

The Bears franchise-altering day arrived all the same. It will forever be remembered by the successful or failed march toward immortality that comes next.

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