In spite of itself, Wrigley Field hosts a brilliant evening of football

I am not a Cubs fan. I have nothing against the Cubs, but growing up in Central Illinois meant that all of the locals were either Chicago Cubs fans or St. Louis Cardinals fans. If you've ever had the urge to plumb the depths of human stupidity, ask a Cubs fan what they think about the Cardinals, or a Cardinals fan about the Cubs--but not until you've got your riot gear firmly attached.

When I think of the Cubs, I have mostly pleasant thoughts: Andre Dawson, Harry Caray, etc. Then I remember going to the University of Illinois, where the population was, as would be statistically expected, from the city and suburbs of Chicago. So, after having one too many of these urban--ah--people ask me to talk faster, I took an interest in watching their precious Cubs lose like... the Cubs.

Nonetheless, even I recognize that Wrigley Field is a shrine--a national treasure.

Wrigley, as part of the cityscape

When Joe called and asked if I wanted a ticket to see Illinois play Northwestern at Wrigley Field, I didn't bother with my usual no/no/yes pattern [1], I immediately said, "Yes." Wrigley Field is historical, and since it hadn't hosted a football game in forty years, this was a truly special event.

On Friday, the day before the game, officials announced that both teams would use the end zone on the left field side of the stadium because the brick walls were too close to the right field end zone to be safe; meaning: every single offensive play would go to the left field end zone. Instantly the national coverage of the game was focused on the goofball rules and not on the special event itself. Only Illinois football could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with such verve.

One way

OK. How could they fit a football field in Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, but not in 2010?

There are a few differences between then and now. For starters, the goal posts were moved from the front of the end zone to the back of the end zone in the 1974 NFL season, i.e., after the Bears vacated Wrigley Field. That's why the eastern goal post was installed in the wall for the Illinois game.

The big difference was the orientation of the field. On Saturday the field was oriented east-west. When the Bears played at Wrigley Field, the field was oriented north-south. Hmmm. Well. Allow me to put on my rocket scientist cap: so why not orient the field north-south for the Illinois game?

Here I am introducing a dramatic pause because I'm just quivering to give you the answer to this question. My brain exploded in a massive, "Aha!" when I read this. Nothing could convince me more that Wrigley Field exists in some sort of fated-for-failure parallel universe.

Answer: the field never fit.

Lazy web, take it away: Wikipedia: Wrigley Field#Football. The Bears played 365 games at Wrigley Field and the field never fit in the stadium. The south end zone extended into the visitors' dugout. [2] The end zone was slightly clipped.

Though it was handled poorly in public, it was a good idea to change the rules to accommodate the one-way game. The game was not hampered by the switch. After every change of possession, the referees would carry the football from one side of the field to the other. I was afraid this would be awkward, but it wasn't noticeable. In every televised football game, there is a commercial break during a possession change anyway. The switch from one side of the field to the other happened cleanly in this break.

And what did it matter anyway? Illinois owned the east end zone, winning 48-27.

In spite of--or perhaps because of--the strange rules, the game was a spectacle. In a place like Wrigley Field, not even the most hapless mistakes can diminish the impact of the game itself. The crowd, mostly wearing Northwestern purple, alternated between roaring for the frequent big plays on the field--a 70-yard run, an 80-yard run for a touchdown, an interception returned 59 yards for a touchdown, a 58-yard punt return--and buzzing in reverence for the chance to watch football in Wrigley. Mikel Leshoure ran for 330 yards--three hundred and thirty yards, an Illinois school record and outstanding feat that under any other circumstances would not be outmuscled for the top headline by a brick wall.

Go Illini!

They played on into the night

Wrigley Field, empty

Hooray for the good guys

 


 

  1. "Would you like to go to the game?"
    "No."
    "Would you like to go to the game?"
    "No."
    "Would you like to go to the game?"
    "Yes."[back to text]
  2. Let me repeat that, with emphasis: The SOUTH END ZONE extended into the VISITORS' DUGOUT. Only in Chicago could something like this happen. [back to text]

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Comments

From a very reliable source the Wrigley Field football field the Bears played on was not 100 yds. Though it was marked as such there was not quite enough room back then either. They marked the field to look full size but they actually fudged on the field marker dimensions. 5 yards was actually 4.5 yards. The league knew about and allowed the Bears to do it.