August 17, 2017

Bears 23, Ravens 20 – Strange Winds Were Blowin’

The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens took a side trip through the Land of Oz on Sunday and their return ended in a wet and weird 23-20 overtime victory for the Bears that kept them in the hunt for the playoffs and left the Ravens in a very bad spot.

But none of that really matters.

It was just a football game but it could have been catastrophic and was, indeed, deadly for some people just several hundred miles away from Chicago’s Soldier Field.

The Ravens led 10-0 in the first quarter when severe winds, rain and dark clouds that looked like they were drawn in hell descended upon Chicago’s lakefront having already, in the form of tornadoes, cut a deadly path through southern and central Illinois, ripping houses to shreds, tossing cars like blades of grass and killing at least eight people.

No one at Soldier Field knew at that moment that the weather had killed people but everyone was well aware of the potential danger and the game was, rightly, delayed.  The officials sent the players into the locker rooms and Soldier Field staff told the 62,367 fans to move inside.  The delay lasted one hour and 53 minutes.

Then, it was time for football again.

The Soldier Field grass, which is widely considered the worst playing surface in the NFL, had been transformed into a muddy bog of potholes and the game became a test of which team could better handle the delay and navigate the striped minefield.

It proved to be the Bears.  It was close, but we’ll take it.

Josh McCown was at quarterback again for the Bears in place of the injured Jay Cutler and Mr. McCown continued to impress, playing about as well as a QB could amid challenging conditions and against a depleted but proud Ravens defense, completing 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and, amazingly again, no turnovers.

In #12’s four games of action he has completed 60.4% of his passes for five scores, no turnovers, and a quarterback rating of exactly 100.0% which is higher than Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Alex Smith and, among others, Tony Romo.  If McCown keeps playing – Cutler is expected to be out at least one more game – he will certainly, at some point, throw an interception and make bad decisions.  But for now, he’s a joy to watch.  He’s precise and cautious, yet completely unafraid.  The Bears want Cutler back, to be sure.  But if Josh has a few more good games they might not be so vocal about it.

McCown’s best play of the game came in overtime when he connected with tight end Martellus Bennett for 43 yards setting up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 38-yard field goal about six minutes into the extra quarter.  Sixty-two thousand Bears fans, most of whom had gutted out the rain and wind, celebrated wildly and the Bears had their third victory of the year against the AFC North.

But the heroics of McCown, Bennett and Gould would not have been possible if the Bears’ defense, which has been criticized more than Rob Ford, had not come up big.

Chicago’s first touchdown came when defensive end David Bass intercepted Joe Flacco for a 24-yard interception return in the second quarter.  It was the fifth defensive touchdown for the Bears this year.  Since 2005, the Bears are 25-2 when the defense scores and have won 11 in a row when getting a defensive TD.

Those TDs are nice but you also have to do it the old fashioned way sometimes and just stop people, and the Bears, who are still missing Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Shea McLellin and just about every other defender who’s making big money, did that, too.

Baltimore won the coin toss to start overtime and the Bears were able to hold Joe Flacco and Ray Rice’s crew to one first down before forcing a punt.  Prior to that the Bears defense did allow Baltimore to drive down 96 yards at the end of the fourth quarter for the tying field goal. That cannot be denied.  But the Bears at least were finally able to come up with some clutch tackles and kept Baltimore out of the end zone.  Maybe they shouldn’t have been in that position but they were, and they got it done.

The Bears’ defense still has much to answer for.  Ray Rice, who is having a terrible season, got healthy on Sunday running for 131 yards and a score against the Bears who have running backs all over America licking their chops. The Bears are allowing 133.9 yards rushing per game, second worst in the NFL, and have given up 11 rushing scores, which is tied for fifth worst in the league.  Oh Henry Melton, where art thou?

The Bears are now muddied, bloodied, battered and 6-4.  The Detroit Lions lost on Sunday to drop to 6-4 and the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers also fell and are 5-5 so Chicago’s chances of winning the NFC North, which it will probably have to do to qualify for the playoffs, remain ripe.

The campaign continues with a trip to St. Louis to face the 4-6 Rams.  Some of the Illinois tornadoes struck near St. Louis so that city is feeling the pain of what happened on Sunday just as much as Chicago is.  Hopefully this coming Sunday’s game will help fans in both cities gain some solace and, at least for a few hours, forget a terrible afternoon when thousands had to take shelter.

 

History Renewed at Soldier Field

When Notre Dame renews its storied rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes Saturday night in Chicago’s Soldier Field, it will happen within the hallowed confines of a site that has seen its own iconic place in Notre Dame football history. It will be only the 12th Notre Dame game to take place at the landmark lakefront stadium, but the previous 11 include some of the most well-attended and classic matchups in college football history.

The Irish are unbeaten at Soldier Field, with a mark of 9-0-2. Eight of the games took place between 1924 and 1931, as college football’s – and Notre Dame’s – burgeoning popularity drew massive crowds of the well-off alongside the lunch-bucket brigade.

The first game featured Knute Rockne’s “wonder team” of 1924 – led by the Four Horsemen and the Seven Mules – which was scheduled to play Northwestern at that school’s home field in Evanston, a place seating about 15,000. But just days before the game, it was switched to the new Grant Park stadium (not yet named Solider Field). Here is how we described it in Loyal Sons:

One of the crowning jewels for Chicago was the opening of the new $5-million Grant Park stadium, along the lakeshore south of the “loop district.” Designed by Holabird and Roche, its Classical Revival style used the Greek Doric order, the most distinctive feature being a pair of systole colonnades along the east and west sides. Each colonnade, flanked by tetra style templates, was built with a double row of 32 columns.

The great edifice was declared ready to use in late summer, with about 35,000 seats completed and construction on seating sections continuing. On September 6 and 7, the stadium was dedicated when crowds of 45,000 and 50,000 gathered for the annual Chicago Police Department track and field meet. In the coming weeks, the stadium would host a great variety of civic events, from a children’s parade circus to the Chicago Day program, when men of Troop A of the Fourteenth Cavalry charged with their horses through rings of fire.

A committee of the local American Legion suggested that the new stadium be named in honor of Chicago’s soldiers who served in the world war. A group of Gold Star mothers, who had a plan for another memorial nearby, argued against it. On October 17, the Chicago Tribune editorialized that “Soldiers’ field is the best name for the Grant park memorial to ers’ Field,” they said, “where the youth of the nation can compete in health-giving games is the best memorial to a soldier whose first requisite to serving hmen of the world war. Soldiers and young men are alike the world over.” The name was also backed by the executive committee of the World’s War Veterans.  “Soldiers’ Field,” they said, “where the youth of the nation can compete in health-giving games is the best memorial to a soldier whose first requisite to serving his country is a good physical condition.”

The first football game at the mammoth new field was the 1924 Public League High School championship game. Then, on Armistice Day, the “Catholic college championship of the Midwest” was contested between Columbia College of Dubuque, Iowa, coached by ex-Irish star Eddie Anderson, and St. Viator of Bourbonnais, Illinois, a frequent foe of Notre Dame reserve teams. A rainstorm turned the field into a mud hole, and the teams sloshed their way to a scoreless tie.

The new stadium was as ready as it could be. During the week, Northwestern’s movable bleachers were installed at the north and south ends of the gridiron, adding several thousand seats to the site. Officials decided several thousand more could be admitted to standing room areas. Workmen also thickly dressed down the field with hay to protect the turf.

On game day, though, the new field showed the effects of the recent snow and rain and was in poor condition. Players slipped and slid in pre-game warm-ups, while the heavily bundled crowd, many arriving at the stadium for the first time, struggled to find their seats.

The game itself was a defensive tussle on what became a mudbath of a field. Tied 6-6 in the second half, ND got the winning score when Elmer Layden intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a TD. Layden later left the game with an injury, and his famous mates were fortunate to close out the 13-6 victory, one of the closest calls in a perfect season that included lopsided wins against strong teams like Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

On the short train ride back to South Bend, the Irish were quietly mulling the close shave they endured when a swaying inebriate burst into their car. The conductor asked him to show his ticket, but the man scoffed. “Where are you headed?” the conductor asked, “New York, Toledo or Cleveland?”

“I don’t know,” replied the disoriented rider. “I guess I’m not going anywhere.”

Jim Crowley didn’t miss a beat, commenting, “He must be one of the Four Horsemen.”

Three years later, Soldier Field hosted the second game of the ND-Southern Cal series, and first to be played in the Midwest, as a massive throng of 120,000 set the record for the largest crowd to watch a football game. It was the season-closer, on November 26, years before USC would request a trip to the Midwest earlier in the season.

The size and makeup of the crowd was featured in page after page of articles and photos in the Chicago newspapers. Celebrities and politicians were numerous. The Chicago Tribune also reported: “Not all of the boxes were occupied by notables and society folk, for the gangsters and detectives called off their shootings until after the game and were out in almost full force except a few, who didn’t have tickets and were left in jail, but all the ‘big shot hoodlums’ were there, behaving just like gentlemen.”

Notre Dame edged the Trojans, 7-6, in a game marked by controversy. Late in the fourth quarter, ND’s Charlie Riley fielded a USC punt near the Notre Dame goal line, bobbled the ball and crossed into the end zone, where he was hit hard, knocking the ball out of bounds. The officials ruled it a touchback. USC players and coaches stormed the field, insisting it should have been a safety and an 8-7 Trojan lead. Instead, ND won 7-6.

The ’27 USC game also helped propel forward plans to built Notre Dame Stadium. Rockne had been lobbying university administrators for years that a replacement for rickety Cartier Field could help bring big-time opponents and large crowds to campus. In 1928, it was proven the previous year’s USC game was no fluke, as another estimated 120,000 – including a paid crowd of 103,081 – turned out in Chicago for a 7-0 win over Navy.

In 1929, as Notre Dame Stadium was being built, Soldier Field hosted three Irish victories, over Drake, Wisconsin and USC, en route to ND’s second consensus national championship. The USC game, on November 16, was like many that season in that Rockne, confined to a wheelchair or gurney due to severe phlebitis, played a limited role. With the scored tied 6-6 at the half, he was brought into the locker room and made a brief speech, after which Joe Savoldi scored the winning touchdown early in the second half. USC scored on a long run but missed the point-after, and the Irish escaped with an exciting 13-12 win.

In 1930, the Irish breezed through their first eight opponents, playing five games at new Notre Dame Stadium, before the undefeated season came down to games against its two biggest rivals – Army and USC. The Irish had played Army 16 times since 1913, with the first nine games at West Point, then seven contests in New York City. But this time, with a long trip to the West Coast looming the following week, Notre Dame asked Army to visit the Midwest, so the Cadets traveled west for a November 29 game at Soldier Field.

The crowd estimated at 110,000 – with 103,310 paid – was pelted with snow and rain under dark, low-hanging clouds. Yardage was at a premium, and the teams appeared headed toward a scoreless tie. Until, with less than six minutes left, Notre Dame executed what they called “the perfect play” in which a number of blocks were completed with exact precision, and the ball carrier Marchie Schwartz was escorted by end Tom Conley and fullback Moon Mullins on a 54-yard TD run. The conversion made it 7-0.

But in the final minute, Army blocked a Notre Dame punt and recovered in the end zone for a TD. Army’s extra point attempt was described this way in The Big Game: “Notre Dame sets up a nine-man line against the conversion attempt and the forwards crouch for the savage lunge…A frail, blond kid named Chuck Broshous stands bare-headed on the 12 yard line, arms outstretched, waiting to drop-kick. He has wiped the ball with his sweatshirt to improve his chances. He opens his hands as a signal for the snap and the line meet. The ball never gets off the ground. Notre Dame’s complete wall is in on him and the swarm inundates the pigskin and the lightweight Cadet.” Final, ND 7, Army 6.

The two ties at Soldier Field were a 0-0 deadlock with Northwestern in 1931, and a 13-13 final against Great Lakes in 1942. It was another 50 years before the Irish returned to the stadium, when they downed Northwestern 42-7 in 1992. The last visit prior to Saturday was a 42-7 win against the Wildcats in 1994.

Chicago’s great edifice will again shine on Saturday night. The spirits of Rockne, the Four Horsemen, and other Irish greats will surround Coach Kelly, Manti Te’o and his mates as they strive to create more ND history in the Windy City.

******

Jim Lefebvre writes at Forever Irish (www.NDFootballHistory.com). He is author of the award-winning book Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, and is currently working on the definitive biography of Knute Rockne, entitled Coach For A Nation: The Life and Times of Knute Rockne, scheduled for release in 2013.

A Chicago Super Bowl

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday that the Windy City should be allowed to one day host the Super Bowl at Soldier Field.  When Goodell finished laughing and realized that Emanuel was serious there was a silence so awkward it was like finding condoms in Grandma’s glove compartment.

Actually, Goodell seems to be taking Emanuel’s request seriously and he has to, because that’s the can of worms that Roger G. and the Billionaires opened when they agreed to put a Super Bowl in the New Jersey Meadowlands in 2014, the first time the Great American Game will be held outside in a cold weather setting.

There are many reasons that Soldier Field might not be the best place to play a Super Bowl but the frigid, Arctic cold blowing off Lake Michigan in the middle of winter is probably the most glaring. Chicago averages about eight inches of snow in February and has an average high temperature of 33 degrees with an average of low of 17.

Russians don’t like Chicago in February.

Soldier Field also has a seating capacity of only about 63,000 and, according to news reports, not enough luxury suites for those rich cats and New England Patriots fans who normally attend games with Roman numerals while real fans are stuck at home drinking Rhinelander and breaking up fistfights in the den.

Still, it could be fun.  Chicago remembers well the city’s fugacious but expensive and ultimately failed attempt to land the 2016 Olympics and so it might provide some civic salve if the Super Bowl came to town instead.  And while Chicago is cold in February it’s always a fun city and one imagines the Super Bowl village by the lakefront featuring attractions like snowball fights or “Bribe The Alderman.”

Chicago has great hotels, restaurants, bars, museums and ice floes and there would be plenty for football fans and Chris Berman to do in the days leading up to the big game.

The only trouble for Chicago would arise if the Packers were playing.  Maybe we could all drive up to Green Bay for the week and get drunk and burn things.

The reason Roger Goodell was in Chicago was to congratulate the city for Soldier Field becoming the first NFL stadium to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its environmentally sustainable attributes.  So who knows?  Maybe by 2016 the Chicago Park District will have figured out a way to store energy to keep Soldier Field seats nice and warm even in February.  Or maybe they’ll just buy a bunch of batteries.

If the New York area can host a Super Bowl so can Chicago.  So can Green Bay, Denver, Pittsburgh and Hank Stram’s old house.  Let football’s biggest game return to its natural roots.  Bring on the snow, let in the cold.  Let’s have a 13-10 snow globe affair.  It will look great on TV.

 

 

 

Run, Fool

The Soldier Field 10 Mile gives runners the opportunity to experience a thrill normally exclusive to members of the Chicago Bears and perhaps the occasional criminal vagrant.

The race, which starts outside the 88-year-old stadium and takes participants south along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive for five miles before looping back up to the stadium, culminates with runners sprinting madly into Soldier Field to the finish line which is at the same spot the Bears’ offense traditionally sputters: the 50-yard line.

Cheers, tears and more than a few taunts greet the runners as they stagger across the finish line remembering all the football players who have enjoyed so much success at Soldier Field – Brian Urlacher, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Brett Favre….Runners also can’t help but ponder the weirdness of Soldier Field, a place that is both historic and new, stately and grotesque, verdant and craggy.  One views Soldier Field and begins to empathize with Joan Rivers’ gynecologist.

Built in 1924 and home to the Bears since 1971, Soldier Field boasts imposing Doric columns and resembles a place where gladiators went to die long before the Pro Bowl dreams of wide receivers ever did.  Soldier Field underwent a massive renovation a decade ago in which the columns and outer walls were maintained but the interior was gutted like a bratwurst in front of Rex Ryan, and a UFO-like bowl was dropped in.  The result is that Soldier Field now looks like a piece of Tupperware sitting on top of a Waterford platter.  Can you imagine Mr. Brady being commissioned to design an addition for the Lincoln Memorial?  There you go.

Other thoughts, thrills and fears pervading the minds of Soldier Field 10 Mile finishers include the pursuit of Powerade and bananas, which not only help replenish a body after a 10-mile jaunt on a humid Chicago morning but can also be swapped for cigarettes or a two-day stay in Jimbo Covert’s Winnebago.  After being given fluids and fruits (which is also the name of a new bar in Lincoln Park) runners are rewarded with a spiffy medal in the shape of a football helmet which hangs around the neck on a ribbon proclaiming “I Finished On The 50” just to make it clear, apparently, to those who might care why, a few hours after the race, you’re found slumped against a tree bleeding from your feet and asking a squirrel to forgive Danielle Manning.

The number of people who finished the 10 Mile was 12,857 which is the exact same number of quarterbacks the Bears have had since 1989.  Of those 12,857 finishers less than half were men, which was also true of the Bears’ roster from 1970 to 1974.

Maybe among the thousands of last Saturday’s finishers there are a few candidates to one day perform at Soldier Field for real.  Perhaps someone’s dream of gridiron greatness will be fulfilled and they’ll get to parade on the 50-yard line in front of thousands of paying customers on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe.  But the Bears haven’t had cheerleaders since 1985.  So if you run the Soldier Field 10 Mile forget the leather boots and pom-poms.  Dismiss delusions of grandeur or memories of Red Grange.  Just run.  Think of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Willie Gault and John Yossarian.  Imagine the whole world is not only against you but is wearing Viking braids and wants you to follow them on Twitter.

You will run fast.  You will run well.  You will find 18 inches of daylight.  You won’t be tired.

 

 

Economics of NFL Stadiums

In a 2002 study titled “Representative NFL Stadium Public/Private Partnerships,” Horrow Sports Ventures reported the estimated total costs, lease terms, and any public and private contributions, cost overruns, and referendums associated with 22 football stadium projects. Although there were likely changes of each project’s costs, terms, contributions, overruns and referendums if implemented, the study revealed valuable information about potential investments in existing and new NFL venues.¹

In Chapter 4 of my book Football Fortunes, I provided various data regarding NFL stadiums such as when these facilities opened, home teams’ average attendances and win-loss results, and amounts, years, and expiration dates of naming rights. Thus, anyone who reads the chapter understands why and how these stadiums influenced, in different ways, the strategies, operations, and financial success of respective NFL franchises as businesses and their on-the-field performances as competitors especially at home games.

While sports fans attended pro football games or watched them on television including wild card and divisional playoffs and each conference championship and then the Super Bowl, there were reports and rumors about new or planned stadiums for the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. Consequently, for my perspectives regarding the economics of NFL stadiums, I created Table 1. As such, it contains interesting characteristics of teams’ home sites based on an article published in Forbes and readings in other sources. To that end, what do Table 1 and the literature reveal about the home venues of 32 clubs in America’s most popular and prosperous professional sport?

Table 1
Characteristics of Stadiums, NFL Teams, 2011

Team Name             Stadium                 Capacity  Cost  Value   Owner
Arizona Cardinals     U of Phoenix Stadium      63,400   395    100  Public
Atlanta Falcons       Georgia Dome              71,228   210     72  Public
Baltimore Ravens      M&T Bank Stadium          70,107   220    151  Public
Buffalo Bills         Ralph Wilson Stadium      73,079    22     88  Public
Carolina Panthers     Bank of America Stadium   73,504   248    144  Team
Chicago Bears         Soldier Field             61,500   630    138  Public
Cincinnati Bengals    Paul Brown Stadium        65,500   334     90  Public
Cleveland Browns      Cleveland Browns Stadium  73,300   300    115  Public
Dallas Cowboys        Cowboys Stadium          100,000 1,200    437  Public
Denver Broncos        Sports Authority Field    76,125   401    137  Public
Detroit Lions         Ford Field                65,000   440     65  Public
Green Bay Packers     Lambeau Field             73,128   295    132  Public
Houston Texans        Reliant Stadium           71,054   449    198  Public
Indianapolis Colts    Lucas Oil Stadium         63,000   719    136  Public
Jacksonville Jaguars  EverBank Field            67,246   145     73  Public
Kansas City Chiefs    Arrowhead Stadium         76,600   375    133  Public
Miami Dolphins        Sun Life Stadium          75,540   115    147  Private
Minnesota Vikings     Mall of America Field     64,126    55     50  Public
New England Patriots  Gillette Stadium          68,756   325    262  Team
New Orleans Saints    Mercedes-Benz Superdome   69,703   336    184  Public
New York Giants       MetLife Stadium           82,500 1,400    204  Public
New York Jets         MetLife Stadium           82,500 1,400    177  Public
Oakland Raiders       O.co Stadium              63,132   100     48  Public
Philadelphia Eagles   Lincoln Financial Field   69,144   360    181  Both
Pittsburgh Steelers   Heinz Field               65,050   281    134  Public
San Diego Chargers    Qualcomm Stadium          70,000    28    102  Public
San Francisco 49ers   Candlestick Park          69,734    25     80  Public
Seattle Seahawks      CenturyLink Field         67,000   360    137  Public
St. Louis Rams        Edward Jones Dome         66,000   248     63  Public
Tampa Bay Buccaneers  Raymond James Stadium     65,908   169    134  Public
Tennessee Titans      LP Field                  69,143   292    132  Public
Washington Redskins   FedEx Field               85,000   251    337  Team

 

Note: Team is self-explanatory. Name reflects recent naming rights of stadiums. Capacity is thousands of seats. Cost includes amounts for the construction and renovation of stadiums in millions of dollars. Value is the portion of an NFL franchise’s market value attributable to its stadium, in millions of dollars. Owner of a stadium may be a public entity such as a city, commission, county, district, metropolitan authority, state, a private investor or investment group, and/or a team. The Philadelphia Eagles and City of Philadelphia jointly own Lincoln Financial Field.

Source: Michael K. Ozanian, Kurt Badenhausen, and Christini Settimi, “NFL Team Valuations 2011,” www.forbes.com, cited 10 January 2012.

 

First, the average capacity was approximately 70,700 for 31 NFL stadiums in 2011. They ranged in seats from 61,500 for the 88-year-old but renovated Soldier Field in Chicago to 100,000 for the relatively new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Besides Soldier Field, another small, old facility was 46-year-old O.co Stadium (formerly Oakland-Alameda Stadium) for the Raiders in northern California. Interestingly, 12 or 38 percent of all stadiums opened during the 2000s while a few others expanded in size by adding thousands of club seats.

Second, construction costs and renovations combined equaled less than $60 million each for four NFL stadiums. These were 52-year-old Candlestick Park in San Francisco, 44-year-old Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, 39-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, and 29-year-old Mall of America Field (formerly named HHH Metrodome) in Minneapolis. In contrast to them, owners of such stadiums as Lambeau Field, Arrowhead Stadium, and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (formerly named Louisiana Superdome) each received millions in taxpayer money for renovations.

Third, Forbes estimated and ranked the market valuations of NFL franchises and published them online in an article dated September 2011. These estimates consisted of specific values due to (a) the Sport (revenue shared among teams) and each football franchise’s (b) Market (city and market size), (c) Brand Management (promotion and marketing), and its (d) Stadium.

In column five of Table 1, I list the value in millions assigned to each NFL franchise’s stadium. Because of such amenities as types of leases, numbers of suites, prices of premium and club seats, advertisements, sponsorships, vendor contracts and special business deals, the most lucrative among the group are Cowboys Stadium and FedEx Field. Furthermore, there were five or 16 percent of NFL stadiums whose value exceeded their cost. This occurred, for example, for Dan Snyder’s Redskins franchise in Landover, Maryland where new additions at FedEx Field were two video scoreboards, 1,000 parking spaces, and club-level party decks. Meanwhile, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently established a partnership with the New York Yankees and Goldman Sachs in a profitable stadium operation venture named Legends Hospitality Management.

Fourth, as denoted in column six of Table 1, different publics primarily owned 27 or 87 percent of NFL stadiums in 2011. These included such cities as Cleveland and San Diego, counties as Erie in New York and Hamilton in Ohio, and states as Georgia and Louisiana. Indeed, the majority of NFL franchises had to negotiate a lease agreement and thus pay rent to occupy their home-site stadium if a public organization owned it.

In sum, stadiums are truly economic assets that contribute in many ways to the current and future market value of NFL teams. Therefore, during the 2010s, franchise owners like Carolina Panthers’ Jerry Richardson and public organizations will allocate resources and finance improvements to upgrade and perhaps significantly renovate their football venues for more revenue and to entertain fans while they attend home games of the league.²

 

¹Horrow Sports Ventures, “Representative NFL Stadium Public/Private Partnerships,” Mimeograph (12 September 2002): www.sandiego.gov/chargerissues/pdf/horrow.pdf.

²See Steve Harrison, “New Look? Or New Stadium,” Charlotte Observer (22 August 2010): 1A, 7A.

 

Three Cheers! – And $760 Million – For The Chicago Jaguars!

Until 1960 Chicago had two NFL teams but then the Cardinals, who started playing in Chicago before the Bears, decided to skip town to St. Louis where they stayed for nearly 30 years before relocating again to Phoenix.

The Cardinals haven’t been missed too much by the Windy City and actually weren’t very appreciated or supported here to begin with, which is why they moved.  The Chicago Cardinals were football’s equivalent of the White Sox, the second team in the “Second City” and even shared old Comiskey Park with the Sox on the South Side.  Also like the White Sox, the Cardinals didn’t win very often, capturing only two NFL titles, one in 1925 and another in 1947.

The 1947 title for the Chicago Cardinals came a year after the Bears won the championship so Chicago in those days was, certainly, the NFL’s hotspot.

As much as the Cardinals aren’t missed in Chicago, Windy City denizens do occasionally wonder whether we could or maybe should have a second football team.  This discussion usually occurs when the Bears are bad, a situation which has happened far too frequently though, thankfully, not this year. (At least not yet.) Now the subject of a second team in the land of snow and corruption is getting a little more life (at least in my mind it is,) because of a man named Shahid Khan, which is Pakistani for Chicago Jaguars.

Mr. Khan is the deep-pocketed gent who has just purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars from Wayne Weaver for $760 million.  Khan has said he plans to keep the Jaguars in Jacksonville but, hey, no dude scores $760 million by telling the truth.  And then there’s this: Khan is from Illinois.

A big reason the Jags were on the market is they aren’t good (3-8 this year, they just fired head coach Jack Del Rio and haven’t had a winning season or playoff appearance since 2007) and don’t draw fans.  Jacksonville is only averaging 62,173 optimistic souls per home game this year and the team often has to buy up tickets to avoid a TV blackout.  All this lack of love in Jacksonville has, for a long time, prompted speculation that the Jaguars would eventually move with many conjecturing the team will wind up in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city which remarkably hasn’t had an NFL team since 1994.  L.A. offers warmth, Jennifer Aniston and no NFL competition but if Villaraigosaville couldn’t manage to keep its two teams more than a decade ago can we really expect it to keep the gate locked with just one team this time around?

If the Jaguars were to move to Chicago they would, first off, have to change their name.  In Chicago, Jaguars are things that rich people in the suburbs drive and are not to be rooted for on the gridiron.  A couple of friends of mine (real friends, not the matchstick figurines I glue to the dashboard and tell jokes to while stuck in traffic) and I were having fun recently discussing what a second Chicago NFL team might adopt as its moniker.  We concurred that for a second team to survive it would have to contrast itself with the Bears and probably play at the current home of the White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field, and so a South Side kind of name would be appropriate.  The Chicago Drive-bys is catchy but achingly offensive.  Windy City Hog Butchers also has potential but I think that name might already be taken by a motorcycle gang or a church group.  The Chicago Warriors is nice and I envision a logo of a muscular chap bashing an alderman’s face with a hubcap.  Perhaps, to align with the South Side and the White Sox and against the Bears and the Cubs (the Bears are named the Bears because Bears have Cubs. Get it?) and give the team, and potential fans, a truly counter-identity, they could be called the South Side Sinisters.  Or maybe, the Chicago Blackjacks.  Or, in homage to the Cardinals, the Chicago Red Death.

Is any of this working for you?

About a decade ago when the late Al Davis was speculating, yet again, about moving the Raiders out of Oakland, there was some talk, at least by former mayor Richard M. Daley, that Chicago would be a good spot.  So maybe, in tribute to that and to the Board of Trade, the Chicago TradersChicago Traitors?

The South Side of Chicago was also once known for its proud football tradition that extended beyond the Cardinals.  The University of Chicago once had one of the top football programs in the country and even produced the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger in 1935.  U. of C. still has a Division III team, with its longtime nickname, the Maroons, so how about the Chicago Maroon Horde?  I like it, I like it, I like it.

The capacity of U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, is only about 40,000 which is far too small for NFL tastes but maybe an exception could be made for a team in its first few years with a pledge to build a stadium somewhere down the road.  The Jaguars could still become the Chicago Maroon Horde even if made to play at the current home of the Bears, Soldier Field, which is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District.  Jacksonville’s current average attendance of 62,173 is 26th in the NFL just one notch lower than…the Chicago Bears, who attract 62,275 souls per Sunday.  But the key numbers behind those numbers are these: the Jags are filling their stadium to 92.6% capacity while the Bears are somehow managing to defy mathematical logic and are filling Soldier Field to a capacity of 101.3%.  Those extra people must be really skinny.  Soldier Field’s listed capacity for football is 61,500, which is the smallest in the NFL.  So Chicago doesn’t have enough football for its fan base.  Maybe the Chicago Maroon Horde would be the best thing to happen to the Chicago Bears as the city, county, state, fans and taxpayers would seem more likely to pony up a billion dollars or two for a new, bigger stadium if two teams were going to play there, not just one.

This won’t happen.  I know it won’t, you know it won’t, Shahid Khan, Roger Goodell and Virginia McCaskey know it won’t happen.  But the 8.3 million residents of the greater Chicago area would seem to be enough to support a second NFL team.  It would create a great rivalry with the Bears and with the nearby Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South, Jacksonville’s current division.  Everyone would win except, of course, Jacksonville and Los Angeles.  Sorry.

Enter Dent

Richard Dent was the Pontiac of football players: a little flashy, very reliable and capable of coolness along with handfuls of greatness.

Dent was not a Cadillac like Dan Hampton or a Hummer like Reggie White or a likely-stolen Porsche like Lawrence Taylor. Pontiacs normally don’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  However, when Oldsmobiles like Andre Tippett, Fred Dean and Rickey Jackson start getting in, then you hop in the Sunfire, Trans-Am, or GTO and drive to Canton, Ohio wearing your #95 jersey and welcome in “The Colonel.”

Dent became the fourth player from those great Chicago Bears teams of the 1980s to be enshrined at Canton; joining Hampton, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary.  The coach of that Bears team, Mike Ditka, is also in the Hall, but as a player.

Payton was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  He was likely the best all-around running back, and perhaps the most gracious gentleman, in NFL history.  It’s still wounding that he’s gone.

Like Dent, Hampton didn’t get in until several years after first eligible; as he seemed to be overshadowed by other players and personalities from those Bears teams.  But Hampton was the best player on those Bears defenses and probably the NFL’s best overall defensive lineman of the 1980s.  It’s not all about sacks.  It’s also about knocking down passes, chasing guys downfield and treating every play like it’s your last with love, death, wealth and happiness riding on the outcome.  How often do you see defensive linemen make tackles in the secondary?  Dan Hampton did that.

Hampton got in the Hall four years after Singletary, who was the most overrated player on those Bears teams and possibly Chicago’s third best linebacker in 1985.  Singletary was great and the Bears wouldn’t have been as good without him.  But at their peak, Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson were better.  Also, Dent, Hampton, Steve McMichael and Gary Fencik were always better than Singletary, who was fortunate enough to be the platoon leader of a gang of balls-out, blood-seeking maniacs.  Singletary was good, but not as good as everyone, especially in Chicago, likes to think.

Dent admirably said one of the many people who deserve credit for his great career is Jimbo Covert, the Bears’ left tackle from 1983 to 1990 who sparred with Dent at practice.  I agree with Dent when he says Covert also belongs in Canton as he surely was one of the best tackles to ever play as evidenced by his seven Pro Bowl appearances…but wait.  My Bear-loving memory is fading.  A reference check rudely informed me that Jimbo actually only made the Pro Bowl twice and and was All-Pro twice, as well.  I could have sworn Covert was a Honolulu regular for nearly all the Reagan years.  I was wrong.

Does anyone else from those 1985 Bears deserve to be in the Hall?  Seven-time Pro Bowl center Jay Hilgenberg?  Maybe.  And if Fencik, Marshall, McMichael and Wilson were better than Singletary, then certainly they should all….nah.  It’s tough to put in a bunch of guys from a team that only won one Super Bowl.  Everyone on Earth knows those Bears teams of the 1980s should have won more.  They didn’t.  And Canton owes them nothing.

Who among the current crop of Bears might one day be bronzed?  Brian Urlacher is a shoo-in.  He has made the Pro Bowl seven times, first team All-Pro four times and — listen up kids! — he’s Brian Urlacher!  Urlacher is one of those guys who’s so overrated he actually has become underrated.  Playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears is like playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, centerfield for the New York Yankees or James Bond.  You get far more attention than you deserve and everyone expects to you to be damn good and really cool.  Among contemporaries, Urlacher is nothing close to Ray Lewis and probably wasn’t even as good as Zach Thomas.  But Urlacher is good. Very good.  He’s a better athlete than either of those other guys. If he had played with Dent and Hampton in front of him and Wilson and Marshall beside him, he’d be illegal.

What about Lance Briggs?  He’s in Urlacher territory with six Pro Bowl nods and one All-Pro selection and he’s a very, very good football player.  But Hall of Fame?  Let’s watch him decapitate Aaron Rodgers in this season’s NFC title game and then intercept a pass and bring it into the end zone in a Super Bowl win over the Patriots.  Then, yes, Lance gets in.

Devin Hester is the most exciting NFL player since Deion Sanders, who was among those who went into the Hall along with Dent this past weekend.  Hester holds the NFL record for most career kick and punt returns for touchdowns with a total of 14 and is a serviceable receiver.  But has his career been one for the Bronze Age?  Hester has those 14 TDs (not including one from Super Bowl XLI and a returned missed field goal from the 2006 season) on 291 career returns.  The man whose return record he broke, Brian Mitchell, had 13 career scores on 1,070 returns.  So Hester takes about one of every 20 returns to the house whereas Mitchell took back only about one of every 80.  Mitchell also scored 12 TDs rushing and ran for 1,967 career yards with four TDs and 2,336 yard receiving.  But Hester already has more receiving TDs – 12 – and nearly as much receiving yardage – 2,196 –  and has only played five seasons.  Mitchell played 14.

Certainly Hester’s top return years are behind him, therefore his eye-popping TD-per-return ratio will likely diminish significantly.  But it’s not crazy to project he will retire with 15 career return scores, 25 TD receptions and maybe more exciting moments than any other player in NFL history.  He won’t be a first ballot guy because some will say special teamers should wait in line.  But sometime around 2022 or 2023 his phone will ring.  And the Bears will have another trophy.

The Bears lead the NFL with 27 Hall of Famers and, especially with Dent’s enshrinement this year, it’s only fitting that Chicago was to be playing in the Hall of Fame Game.   That game was cancelled a few weeks ago because the lockout wasn’t over.  Then on Friday, the Bears were to be holding their annual Family Night at Soldier Field, but it was cancelled because the grass was falling apart.  Then on Wednesday night, the lights went out on the Bears’ practice field in Bourbonnais, Illinois.  So the Bears have yet to be seen by the public at large and we hope that’s a bad thing.  It’s a bit of an embarrassment that the Bears play at Soldier Field, which is run by the Chicago Park District, and seems to be treated like any of the other random softball diamonds or tennis courts in the city.  Do things like this happen in other cities?  Bears players, including Urlacher, say Soldier Field should use FieldTurf which is not real grass but far closer to it than artificial turf’s green concrete ancestors.  The Bears would be better on a synthetic surface because they’re a team built on speed and far, far less maintenance would be needed on the fake stuff.

However, many want Soldier Field to remain au naturel.  Fine.  The greatest green grass guy in the world works just a few miles away for the Chicago White Sox.  His name is Roger Bossard, “The Sodfather” and his innovative drainage and irrigation system has been used by the  Sox since the 1960s.  He has also overseen the installation of fields at Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Busch Stadium and at several other major league ballparks.  The man knows his grass. He even has his own bobblehead.  The White Sox, likely, won’t be playing in October and the Bears will be away from Soldier Field for three weeks, so give the Sodfather the keys.  Give the NFL’s charter franchise a respectable field.  We won’t care what the field is made of in January when it’s covered in snow and the Bears are taking apart other members of the NFC on their way to the Super Bowl (Oh, yes..).  But for now, let’s make it pretty.  Let’s keep it safe.  All Bears deserve a pristine playground upon which to do their savagery.

Ed Sabol is now in the Hall of Fame and thank goodness football did the right thing by getting him there.  Sabol is 94, a World War II veteran and is the one who started NFL Films.  One of the many reasons the NFL is America’s favorite sport is that Sabol built such drama around it.  He and his son Steve have spent decades turning the league’s great games into timeless dramas.  NFL Films could make the assembly of a bologna sandwich feel like Superman conquering the dinosaurs.  It’s just a shame that the original voice of NFL Films, John Facenda, is no longer around.  He died in 1984 but his stentorian narrations live on and, thanks to Ed Sabol, every NFL game will always, at least in retrospect, have the look and feel of a timeless struggle between angry men embedded in mud and blood.