Wisch: Soldier Field’s Turf Isn’t The Problem, Soldier Field Is

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.

davewisch Wisch: Soldier Fields Turf Isnt The Problem, Soldier Field Is

Dave Wischnowsky

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.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Agreed, but with the State near-bankrupt, seems difficult to imagine getting a new stadium any time soon.

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  • Andy Awald

    Total disagreement. I hope I am not in the minority, but I love Soldier Field for what it is. IF you want to be a fan of indoor football – the Colts are just down I65.

    • Mark, Sterling

      Really? You enjoy seeing Charles Tillman and our receivers falling down EVERY TIME they try to make a cut? Cuz I don’t. I want to see the great athletes on the Bears’ roster be able to use their athleticism to BEAT the other team. Not help them by falling down.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Who said anything about playing indoors, Andy? I want the roof so Soldier FIeld can host Final Fours, Super Bowls, etc. If Soldier Field had a roof, it should always be open for Bears games.

    That’s not at all the argument I was making here.

  • Kenneth Turner

    These are all good points, but nothing can be done about most of them. Seating capacity is the only real problem with Soldier Field. The bottom line with the stadium is how it affects play. The turf is bad and outdated. New England and Green Bay have the same weather issues and they both have installed some form of synthetic surface. It allows them to play fast without footing issues. Players complain every year about the surface. Nobody is complaining in GB or NE. Fix it. Play fast. Win games.

  • Alex Berta

    Is there any NFL stadium in the northern states that has a retractable roof with natural grass? Miller Park and Safeco are the only two MLB stadiums that I could think of that fit both of those characteristics. I don’t believe that a retractable roof would allow for the grass in Soldier Field to be better than what it is now. The grass won’t grow with the roof closed because there would be a lack of sunlight, and I don’t believe that it would grow if the roof was open since the temperatures are so low. Correct me if I am wrong, but is there a natural grass stadium anywhere that has held any Final Fours either?

  • Erik

    If Soldier Field had a roof, wouldn’t the NFL and visiting teams demand the roof being closed during extremely cold and inclement weather? No roof!!

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    First off, Soldier Field isn’t getting a roof and the city isn’t getting a new stadium. Solider Field is what it is, but it is flawed in my opinion. Chicago should have a retractable-roof facility, but it probably never will. With the size of such stadiums, I’m doubtful one could even fit along the lakefront where Soldier is currently located.

    @Alex, no, I don’t believe there are any retractable roof NFL stadiums with natural grass in the northern states. I don’t see why there couldn’t be one, though. And as for grass growing indoors during the winter, well, I’m not an expert in that field, but I would think something could be figured out. The roof wouldn’t have to be closed all the time – but it could be closed during weekday snowstorms and at night, when there’s no sunlight anyways.

    Finally, if they’re re-sodding all the time anyways, I don’t think it would be any big deal to cover a field with a hard surface in April to stage a Final Four and then replace any dead grass afterwards.

  • stanimal

    Bears football is played outside, end of story. build a final four stadium some where else , cubs can play there

  • outsidethebox

    Couldn’t they have the Final Four at the United Center? It would only be for one weekend, and the Bulls and the Blackhawks could, with help from the NBA and NHL, adjust their schedule accordingly.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Well Dave, if your goal was to spark conversation…give your self an “A” on today’s report card.
    Great blog today and really interesting comments.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    @stanimal: Again, I never said the Bears should play indoors. I completely agree that all Bears games should be held outside. But, rather, a retractable-roof facility could protect the turf — and it would have added so much more to Chicago’s sporting scene. Alas, it didn’t happen …

    @outsidethebox: With 21,000 seats, the UC is far too small for a Final Four. They’re strictly held at domed stadiums these days with enormous seating capacities. The UC will continue to host earlier-round games for the NCAA Tournament, though, including this season.

    And, @LHA: Thanks much. Appreciate it, and I always enjoying sparking some discussion.

    • Mark, Sterling

      Dave, I think you’re beating a dead horse with guys like stanimal, Erik, and Alex. They are the same guys who will tell you that the Bears need to get back to playing “Bear football’ in “Bear weather”…even thought the Bears got HOSED by the Pats in “Bear weather” a few weeks ago. Just let the stupid be stupid and the rest of us will quietly agree with you and wait patiently for the day when our dreams of a REAL NFL stadium might be realized!

  • Beverly Brewmaster

    I gotta say… Before Soldier Field was re-done there was some talk about building a dome and I was dead-set against it. Like many of you, I argued that football is meant to be played outdoors. Then a funny thing happened… I got season tickets. It’s easy to get excited about the cold when you’re sitting in your basement with your HDTV, but I took no joy from freezing my rear off while watching them drop a playoff game to Carolina a few years back. I’d be all in favor of a retractable roof so you can have the full outdoors experience when it’s nice out but also go to games in December without having to spend two hours thawing out when you get home.

  • Jake from da burbs


    I think you took what is a real and relevant problem (playing on the current field surface) and tried to cobble it together to make a point about your personal disdain with the construction of Soldier Field by loosely suggesting a roof would have helped preserve sodded field surface. These are different issues.

    Why would the Bears spend millions more to build a roof that is only used to keep the elements out during the week but would be open on Sundays? The fact of the matter is that an open stadium was the right decision even if other construction design decisions were stupid. I agree that Soldier Field is one of the worst of the newly constructed NFL stadiums but again this is a different issue and a different topic for a blog. The easiest fix to the current problem and what should have been done initially was the installation of synthetic field turf. I’m hoping they fix this issue this offseason and all wil be fine next season.

    If the Bears wont change the turf this offseason, they are not putting their team, which is largely built on speed on defense and cutting ability of Wrs and RB’s in a Martz offense, the best opportunity for home field advantage and to win. They’d be shooting themselves in the foot.

    • Denver Smeghead

      “These are different issues.”

      Yes, but the field and the stadium still both suck.

  • Mike Cannon

    Whatever they plan on, they’re still going to suck.

  • Will

    All have made valid points. I do agree Bear football is outdoors.. But this stadium was rushed and put back up to sort of shut some people up but they did a horrible job. They could of installed heated seats. Chicago have the best fans in the World why would you not build a stadium with 100,000 seats. And a roof is an excellent idea for things like the Super Bowl and Ncaa Final fours and big ten championship games!!

    • WillKill

      Continuing what I was saying, we continue to sell ourselves short and except what these owners and the city are giving us.. We are the paying customer and if we are not happy they should not get our money… Lets cheer on our teams but lets not cheer on the garbage they continue to give us.. More seats and a retrractable dome would bring more events jobs and revenue to our great city!!! And the TURF,,, geeeeshhhh they should of been rip that shhhh out of there. We need to start thinking and feeling like champions around our city in everything, lets stop selling ourselves short… GO BEARS,,, but fix that damn turf!!!!

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    @Jake: I never said I suggested that the city try to now somehow attach a retractable roof to the modern stadium already awkwardly stuffed inside an ancient one. Man, can you imagine how ugly Soldier Field would look then?!

    I shudder to think. (And I doubt it would even be possible.)

    The city isn’t going to do that, nor should it. In this blog, I was merely lamenting what Soldier FIeld is — and this dust-up over the turf again reminded me of the many flaws with Soldier Field. But the place is what it is, and that’s not going to change. A retractable-roof facility isn’t coming.

    Like you pointed out, your only options are to either put in synthetic turf at Soldier Field, or just suck it up and stop complaining about it. The Bears have to make their choice.

  • Claybats theSane

    Green Bay has an synthetic + natural grass blend on their field. They use the Desso Grassmaster system. Think of it as the “grass club for fields”. They sink millions of synthetic fibers into the field for the roots to grow into. Re-inforces the grass surface and keeps it from getting ripped up. Same type of system was used for the World Cup last year, and many other soccer stadiums around the world.

  • Tox

    Grass or synthetic? Grass or synthetic? Those aren’t the only options. Hybrid is the way to go. A long root grass growing in a synthetic matrix, essentially weaving itself into the synthetic material, the result being an indestructible natural grass surface. See for yourself: http://www.geosafeplay.com/turf-geogreen-hybrid.aspx

    I agree about Soldier Field. A new stadium should never have been crammed into the old one. Key features should have been saved from the old structure and a new stadium should have been built in the style of the old one, adding on to a few key architectural elements that remained from the old stadium. The result should have been a much larger stadium with a 100K+ seats.

    The Bears stadium situation was one of the reasons I was for the Olympics. After the games the Bears would have occupied the high capacity Olympic stadium. Oh well. I believe the turf controversy at Soldier Field during the Olympic Committee visit to Chicago was a contributing factor to Chicago missing out on 2016.

    • Will

      I agree with you 100% Tox!!!

  • Kurt

    Did you see Green Bay’s field on Sunday? it looked like a fairway at Augusta National. Surely you can’t argue they need a dome.

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      Kurt’s comment was dead-on.

      Tox too.

      Wisch, you really hit a nerve with this blog!!!

  • Mark

    Yes, the hybrid would be the only alternative to just natural grass as Soldier Field is NOT a one-sport stadium, as many here seem to think. It hosts international soccer matches throughout the year, and a synthetic surface would eliminate that.

    Also, some here are confused as to WHO has or would be paying for stadium improvements or a new stadium. @Jake asking “Why would the Bears pay for blah…blah” is not accurate. Like most other municipalities, the cost would likely be passed-on to the tax payers.

    And finally, maybe most importantly, to Dave… if there was a roof it would be closed on any day that doesn’t fall between 65-80 degrees with no rain. Just look at the BCS championship game last night… IN PHOENIX!! Roof, closed.

    Case, closed.

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