Sometimes history should stay just that, history. We often like to dig up the past to create an artificial sense of nostalgia in the present, and in doing so often forget why we stopped doing something in the first place.
Nov. 20 marked the first time since 1938 that a college football game had been played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and the first time since 1970 (when the Bears left for Soldier Field) that a football game had been played there at all. The game was held between Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, obvious choices since they’re the two major college programs in the state.
The contest was a sellout and made a lot of money for the people at Wrigley. The event was likely inspired by recent Blackhawk hockey games that have been huge events held outside at Wrigley. How practical are events like this? The hockey games are hard to see for many fans because they are so far from the action, and let’s not forget there’s no jumbotron to show highlights either.
At least in hockey, however, the teams can use the whole rink at Wrigley. If you didn’t see the historic contest Saturday, or if you haven’t heard of the bogus way they had to play just to make it work, allow me to explain. When the football field was laid out, it was discovered the east end zone didn’t have enough room between the end of the field and Wrigley’s infamous ivy brick wall. Even with extra padding, there were concerns about player safety, and it was decided that both teams would play toward the west end zone when they were on offense.
The wacky rules just for the Wrigley game got its share of more than deserved jeers form the media. ESPN anchors joked about the defensive lines having to count to five-Mississippi before rushing the quarterback, others questioned what would happen on offensive turnovers — would all of the players on the field have to switch to the other side before the defense could advance the ball?
In the end, the game went pretty smoothly. It wasn’t that noticeable that both teams were going the same way aside from when Northwestern’s defense ran back a pick-six and then had to walk back to the opposite side of the field to kick the extra point. After the game, many people, including Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook, said they’d like to be part of a game at Wrigley again. But the question has to be asked, is it worth it?
Wrigley is an old venue, and if Saturday proved anything, it’s that it’s just no longer conducive to hosting gridiron contest. The teams had to both go the same way, and tons of sand and sod had to be brought in. So why do it? Why do people do anything? Jerry McGuire, you want to take this one? Show me the money!
The only reason this contest was held wasn’t for history, and it wasn’t a nostalgic gift for the people of Chicago, it was for the benefit of those who own Wrigley Field and a chance to make an extra dollar. College games like this and outdoor Blackhawk hockey games are an untapped resource and a chance for Wrigley to make money in the winter. It worked, and unfortunately it will likely happen again.
Wrigley wasn’t the only baseball venue to host a college football game Nov. 20. The new Yankee Stadium hosted Army vs. University of Notre Dame. It marked the first time in 41 years the Irish have headed to the Big Apple to play a game.
This isn’t 41 years ago, however. Notre Dame is on national television nearly every week with its contract with NBC, and most people have high definition color TVs. The Irish used to travel and play home games in places like New York because of the huge national following, and because if fans couldn’t get to South Bend, they could only see Notre Dame on their small black and white television sets (think the dad in Rudy).
The game sold out, and Yankee Stadium made a pretty penny. It also took a home game away from Notre Dame students and fans in South Bend, whose loyalty through the programs struggles in recent years was rewarded with having a home game stripped from them.
The media can build up events like the Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium games all they want as historic contests that hearken back to a simpler time of yesteryear, but let’s see them for what they really are, a big headache just for a chance to make a buck.