Michael Thomas, 11, knew something special was about to take place.
He and about 200 other children -- aged 8 to 14 -- were at their annual football awards banquet at the Daniel A. Cotter Boys and Girls Club. A team of volunteers from Verizon Wireless were there, and regional business sales director Andrew Brady presented the club a check for $3,500.
Spaghetti, hot dogs and other snacks were being spread out on tables, and assorted volunteers were racing throughout the gym at the club located in the Lakeview projects.
But as he wrapped up his brief speech, Brady mentioned they had one more surprise in store for them.
Thomas quickly realized the surprise, when Brady mentioned he wore No. 29.
"It was Chester Taylor," said Thomas, who is from Logan Square.
He's a Bears fan, and he knows most of the players, although his favorite is receiver Johnny Knox.
Still, Thomas was thrilled to meet Taylor and receive an autographed photo.
But his highlight?
"When he took pictures with us," Thomas said.
Brady said it was a natural fit to help the club, since Verizon has a new partnership with the NFL, which boasts a successful Play 60 initiative, which encourages children to fight childhood obesity. And thanks to the partnership -- Verizon is now the NFL's official wireless provider -- they were able to get a Bears player.
"Chester was very amicable and he jumped at the opportunity," Brady said.
The challenge, of course, was to keep the surprise, a surprise.
"For us, we really kept it under wraps," Brady said.
Taylor said the event was special to him, because he had challenges growing up in Detroit.
"It's a good thing to give back, because I came from the projects," Taylor said. "It's good coming from the neighborhood I came from, seeing kids doing good and something positive with their lives, instead of running with the wrong crowd."
Taylor said he didn't have a Boys and Girls Club to go to, and he learned to play football with his older brothers and other neighborhood kids.
"But we didn't play flag football," he said. "I played with my older brother in the streets."