By: Alex Patt
Reports came out a few days ago that the Chicago Bears have given thoughts to moving their home from downtown Chicago, to Arlington Heights. The Bears have been playing at Soldier Field since 1971 and have a lease with the facility that lasts through 2033.
Why Arlington Heights? Because the old Arlington Race Track is going to be shutting down and there will be a whopping 326 acres of land available. It is a nice part of the northwestern Chicago suburbs with close access to O’hare Airport and Interstate 290. I know there are very mixed feelings towards the subject, but I feel like the Bears moving to Arlington Heights and building a huge state-of-the-art facility would be amazing.
I was in second/third grade when they renovated Soldier Field in 2002-2003, and I can still remember joking with my classmates at how a spaceship landed at the stadium. Even in third grade I thought the new stadium looked weird. Overall the new stadium came with mixed results from fans. It cost $400 million to renovate that stadium, which should be considered a total rebuild. Only the famous columns and stone wall they sit on remain from the original 1924 structure. The field, stands, locker rooms, concourse, other interior facilities were all completely leveled and rebuilt.
And just another reminder that the Bears do not actually own the stadium, they lease from the Chicago Park District.
Looking at the details about the stadium itself. It has the smallest seating capacity (61,500) in the NFL. Yes, a 100+ year old franchise in one of the biggest markets with one of the largest fanbases behind them plays in a stadium with the smallest capacity. The east and west (especially the west) upper decks are steep like a massive cliff and not very comfortable. The concourses are cement and metal dungeons with little character. For the players, the Kentucky Bluegrass turf is consistently considered one of the worst in football. And, while this only applies to certain people depending on where they live, but for us in the suburbs the stadium is an absolute pain in the ass to get to. The traffic jams trying to get out of those garages is an absolute nightmare, then having to weave through the city. I know, it sounds like First World Problems.
I just feel one of the NFL’s charter franchise’s could do so much better in terms of a stadium. Have you seen the facility the Minnesota Vikings built a few years ago? It look amazing. Heck, even Ford Field in Detroit is very nice. What I am about to say next might get my Bears fan card revoked, but I am going to say it…
Lambeau Field is lightyears better than Soldier Field.
I have actually been inside that stadium, and they did massive renovations right before Solider Field, but they did it right. The concourses and features of Lambeau are fantastic. Yeah, it was an outdated dump before (like the original Soldier Field was) but the Packers did something very special with the stadium. I can’t say I like the metal benches of Lambeau over the seats at Soldier Field, but that is the only real advantage it has. Anyway, enough of that. Let me wash my mouth out and beg the spirit of George S. Halas for forgiveness.
My overall point is that NFL teams are playing in massive, modern stadiums. The Bears tried to squeeze in something somewhat modern into the shell of a traditional colosseum. I dream about the Bears having a stadium like the Vikings or Rams have. Yes, I would be completely fine with a domed stadium despite the old “Bear Weather” tradition. It’s modern times, and “Bear weather” has not exactly helped get them sustained success over the past few decades…just saying.
I guess my other question in, why is it so nostalgic? Sure people can walk through the columns like the old days, but that is it. You cannot even see the columns if you are sitting in the seating area. Everything else from the traditional Soldier Field is gone. Walter Payton did not play on that field, or dress in that locker room. Everything historic that happened before Payton basically took place at Wrigley Field when the Bears played at the Friendly Confines for four decades. I am not here to judge people’s nostalgic feels and I do not want to say they are invalid, I just personally do not understand it when it comes to Soldier Field.
A modern, 80K+ stadium with modern amenities not only would be great for the fans, but allow the Bears to do what they want with the stadium. Look at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy, another nice indoor facility that hosts Super Bowls, NCAA tournaments, and other events. While I feel some Bears fans would be sad to say goodbye to the lakeshore initially, I think if done right the fanbase would adjust and realize how nice having a massive modern facility is. It does not have to be like AT&T Stadium exactly, but something like many other modern facilities.
I do not mind going to Soldier Field for other events, like concerts. It seems to be a solid facility for the Chicago Fire and soccer games. For one of NFL’s biggest franchises? It falls way short of modern standards. Give me a new stadium in Arlington Heights and I will embrace it.
Do I think this is going to happen? I am not betting on it. And even if it does, it would take years for it to come together. Hey, I can dream though.