Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Early in the season, after he was benched, Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris ignored virtually all of the calls, e-mails and texts bombarding him.
But around 11 p.m. one night, the doorbell rang at Harris’ suburban home.
At the door was Randy Chon.
‘‘I knew something was wrong with you,” Chon told Harris, “and I’m not going to let you go through this by yourself.”
Chon didn’t walk next door or drive a few miles. He booked a last-minute plane ticket from the Twin Cities and rented a car from O’Hare.
The gesture resonated with Harris.
“Going through this tough season, he would constantly remind me who I am as a person,” Harris said. “And I think sometimes you tend to forget and you buy into what everybody else is trying to make you out to be.
“ ‘Oh, he’s lost it, and he’s this and that.’ But he’s constantly reminded me and motivated me of who I am and what I meant to him.”
There is no shortage of ways in which Harris has helped Chon, arranging his immigration from Liberia and assisting his transition to the United States in countless ways, including buying him a car.
“It’s just a blessing,” Chon said. “He was always there for me.
“So I want to be there for him.”
The long journey
Four years ago, during a mission trip to Liberia, Harris met Chon, who was interning at a non-profit that worked with orphanages while attending college. Chon escorted Harris and others in a 1996 Isuzu Trooper, and the two men bonded. Chon was impressed with Harris’ candor and nature; Harris was impressed with Chon’s intelligence.
Harris had dinner with Chon’s family, and they had a footrace on a beach.
“Everything was just genuine from the jump,” Harris said.
Humbled by the impact of each U.S. dollar, Harris handed out twenties when his hosts dropped him off at the airport.
But Chon refused the money.
Harris asked his new friend, “What can I do for you?”
Chon said he wanted to visit the United States to research some colleges.
“Consider that done,” Harris said.
Months passed, though, and Chon graduated from college.
“I didn’t put my mind to it,” Chon said, “because a lot of missionaries say things.”
But Chon called the number Harris gave him, and Harris started the process.
It was a complicated one.
At the time, Chon said, the United States wasn’t granting any visas. But Harris wrote a letter on Chon’s behalf and paid for his flight and all of the paperwork.
There were other logistical issues, and Harris handled all of them.
When he arrived in the United States, Chon learned that Harris was about undergo knee surgery.
“It wasn’t about me,” Harris said. “He needed to be taken care of, and I gave him my word that I would do it. It didn’t matter. Hail, sleet, storm — I told the man that I would do it, and I did it.”
Tommie Harris Sr. knows Chon, and he’s proud that his son is a man of “great character.” Harris Sr. served 22 years in the military and embraced the Army’s “we,” not “me,” ethos.
“If you squeeze what you got,” Harris Sr. said, “then it won’t really grow. But if you open up your hand and give, it’ll come back to you fourfold.”
The friendship grows
After visiting the United States, though, Chon had to return to Liberia. Harris helped to ease his return, paying for attorneys and other fees along the way.
Chon ended up in the Twin Cities, where one of his cousins lived, and visited Harris while he and the Bears were in town to play the Vikings.
It was winter, and Chon didn’t have a jacket and hadn’t eaten that day.
Harris handed his friend his pregame meal and asked Karl Dunbar, the Vikings’ defensive line coach who had served in the same capacity with the Bears in 2004, to buy Chon a jacket.
Shortly thereafter, Dunbar tracked down Chon and handed him a brand-new jacket.
For a while, Chon was taking a bus to get to and from work. Harris sent him money to buy a used SUV.
Harris tells Chon not to hesitate to ask for anything, but Chon does just that.
“I want our friendship to be not because of what he’s got,” Chon said. “I’m not after what he’s got. I’m just thankful that God’s put him in my life.
“He’s like my brother from another mother.”
Added Chon’s wife, Adenike: “There’s very few people I meet where I say, ‘God broke the mold.’ But he’s a very special man.”
Harris has helped many others, but he doesn’t like to get into specifics.
“One thing I’ve learned, this will all fade away,” Harris said. “It’s what you do with it. It’s what you do with it.”
Adenike is working on her master’s degree in hospital administration, and Chon is a clerk at a bank with plans to start taking classes toward a degree in criminal justice next year. Someday, he might return to Liberia to become a police chief.
“I got more out of it than he did,” Harris said. “Just to see him take it as far as he has through work [and] education, and he appreciates all the little things.”
Harris said he’s amazed by his friend’s faith, even in the face of adversity, such as the recent news that Randy Jr., a toddler, has cerebral palsy.
“He believes God can do anything, that he can split this room open,” Harris said. “His faith is unbelievable.”