By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) I’m not sure if Mayor Daley has a sense of irony – maybe he leased it to a private company – but if Chicago’s old boss does, its meter should have been running at a premium last week.
That was when Daley, during an interview with Comcast SportsNet, picked up the notion of having a second NFL team in Chicago – and ran with it. The idea was one that I actually proposed way back in February after Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI while Chicago – without an enclosed-roof facility in town – instead twiddled its collective thumbs.
I had no idea that “Da Mare” was such a loyal reader.
During the pigskin discussion, Daley said as only he disjointedly can: “I really believe we could get a second football team. I’ve always believed – the Chicago Cardinals, Bears – why is it that New York has two? Florida has three, San Francisco has two. Now you think of that, we could easily take – Chicago loves sports and we could get a second team in here.
“You could build a new stadium, you could have huge international soccer teams come in, you could do the Final Four, you could do anything you wanted with a brand new stadium.”
And, yes. Yes, you could – if, you know, Chicago could reasonably afford one. Daley, however, was the driving force behind the deal that long ago locked the city into the logistical boondoggle that is Solider Field and the financial fiasco of its bond payments through 2032.
Like I said, irony. With a capital “I.”
The reality is that there’s no fixing the Soldier Field situation anytime soon. And, while I wish things were different, it’s unlikely that Chicago has the financial bandwidth these days to build a sparkling new stadium. Never mind that Daley also claimed, “It would be privately funded,” adding that, “the government could help a little bit.”
However, since our former mayor was floating his pie-in-the-sky ideas last week, allow me to send up one of my own today by explaining how Chicago could have fixed all of its sports’ seating – and attendance – problems in one fell swoop.
By having the Bears play their games where the White Sox do. And, conversely, having the Sox spend their summers on the Bears’ current turf.
Now, I don’t mean that the Bears should be playing at U.S. Cellular Field and that the White Sox should be playing at Soldier Field. No, not at all.
Rather, what I’ve long pondered is how valuable it would have been in the late 1980s, when the Sox were angling for a new ballpark, if Chicago had owned a crystal ball to look far into the future. If the city could have seen its fortune, it would have foretold the eventual reconstruction of Soldier Field in 2002.
And the city could have adapted its long-range plans.
Imagine, if you will, the ultimate wisdom had Chicago decided in the early 1990s to tear down Soldier Field (it eventually lost its landmark status anyway) and built a new Comiskey Park in its place along the lakefront. And imagine, if Chicago had torn down old Comiskey – as it did in 1991 – and constructed an enclosed-roof football stadium at the corner of 35th & Shields on the South Side.
With the White Sox, who are as famous for drawing small crowds as they are for anything else, playing in a ballpark within walking distance of the Loop, their attendance would surely be much higher. Perhaps even on par with the Cubs.
Meanwhile, one of the longstanding complaints about Comiskey (now U.S. Cellular Field) is that the surrounding neighborhood is sketchy and doesn’t offer the bar and restaurant options that fans find in Wrigleyville. If the Bears were playing football on the South Side, however, that wouldn’t be nearly as big a concern.
After all, fans would only have to travel to the neighborhood eight times a year (10 if you count preseason) – instead of 81 for baseball. And with many of the Bears games being held during the frigid winter months, safety concerns in the neighborhood would be largely put on ice. Plus, the area offers ample room for tailgating around the stadium, removing the need for scads of bar offerings.
With a downtown baseball stadium and a South Side enclosed-roof football facility, Chicago could have spent the past two decades hosting Super Bowls and Final Fours – as well as large crowds at White Sox games.
It would have been a win-win.
Alas, for my Back-to-the-Future scenario to have come to fruition, it would have required incredible foresight from Chicago’s leaders. And, hey, I can’t blame even Daley for that.
But I can still imagine the possibilities.
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. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.