By Dave Wischnowsky–
During the past few weeks, the turf conditions at Soldier Field have seemingly been fired upon more than Michigan’s defense in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
And Michigan State’s.
But this week, Soldier Field fired back.
Responding to criticisms of the stadium’s slippery sod by Chicago Bears Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher – who in recent days have called their home field “one of the worst in the league” and its footing “horrible” – Soldier Field general manager Tim Lefebvre on Tuesday said he’d be fine with installing synthetic turf at the facility.
But the Bears don’t want that, either.
“It’s a confusing message because you hear from Cutler and Urlacher and yet the Bears tell us the majority of players still want to play on grass,” Lefebvre said during a radio interview. “These are your two team leaders. I think they need to sit down with the coaching staff and Bears administration, and if that’s truly how they feel, and other players feel that way, they should have a discussion about changing to synthetic.”
Well, I’m here to say that no matter how shoddy it might be, it isn’t Soldier Field’s turf that’s the problem.
Soldier Field is.
In fact, I’d argue that the longtime Home of the Chicago Bears is the worst stadium in all of professional sports. Not for what it is, mind you (Soldier Field is a decent place to watch a ballgame), but rather for what it is not – namely, a retractable-roof facility.
To be honest, ever since Soldier Field was renovated by the City of Chicago (remember, it’s owned and operated by the Chicago Park District, not the Bears) in 2002-03, I haven’t understood one thing about the place.
First, in an attempt to retain Soldier Field’s National Historic Landmark status, the city foolishly opted to shoehorn a modern stadium inside an ancient one, and ended up with something so awkward-looking that Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin dubbed it the “Eyesore on the Lake Shore.”
Along the way, Soldier Field’s seating capacity was reduced from 66,944 to 61,500, making it the NFL’s smallest stadium – in the NFL’s second largest media market.
Oh, and it lost its landmark status, anyway.
That was all bad enough, but what really chaps my hide is that the city lacked the foresight to build something with a retractable roof and at least 70,000 seats. That mistake means that Chicago will never host a Final Four or a Super Bowl, and probably won’t ever attract the Big Ten football championship or any college bowl game.
Believe me, if Detroit can get those things, Chicago certainly would.
All of which brings us to the problem currently at hand (or foot, I suppose): Soldier Field’s sloppy turf.
Lefebvre on Tuesday defended Soldier Field’s upkeep saying it’s re-sodded three times a season. But, in case you haven’t noticed, grass doesn’t exactly take root in Chicago during winter. So, you could re-sod the place every day in December and it really wouldn’t matter.
However, if Soldier Field had a retractable roof, it could be closed and heated during each week, protecting the grass from the elements and allowing it to actually grow. But, Soldier Field doesn’t have a roof, so we’re instead stuck with a small, unsightly, single-purpose stadium that might bring playoff football next week but won’t ever bring another major sporting event to Chicago.
So, my advice to the Bears is stop griping about Soldier Field’s turf.
Gripe about the stadium that holds it instead.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.