Recap - Vikings 20, Bears 17
Within minutes after the final gun in yesterday’s Indy game, I made a frantic dash back to my hotel to grab my bag and then had to contend with the post-game traffic grid lock to get to the Indy Greyhound station in time for my bus to Chicago. The total trip time was about 3 hours up the Chicago Skyway I-65. The trip was very pleasant and I passed the time listening to the end of the Yankees – Indians playoff game on my phone.
I got into Chicago around 7:30 PM last night and checked into my hotel on Wabash Ave after which I took a walk down to Miller’s Pub. Today was the Chicago Marathon and there were still people wandering the streets with their numbers pinned to their shirts and a few of them crammed at the bar in Millers. I was able to squeeze myself in at the bar and ordered one of their famous Reuben sandwiches which I enjoyed while watching the Sunday night game with the Chiefs and Texans slugging it out and having a conversation with a couple from the Bay Area sitting next to me who were fellow Raider fans.
I had plenty of time to kill today before the Monday night matchup and there are plenty of ways to kill a day in this city, especially on such a picture perfect day. This morning I had lunch in my favorite spot in Chicago for breakfast, spent some time in Millennium park , walked along the Riverwalk for a while and had lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern. Most of my trips here are spent hanging out in the Loop, so this time I decided to visit some of the other neighborhoods. Hopped on the CTA and went to Lincoln Park and then to Wicker Park/Bucktown then returning to the loop late afternoon. I was toying with the idea of heading over to Wrigley and scalping tickets to the Cubs-Nats playoff game – but decided to duck into a bar on Randolph Ave and watch it. If you can't watch a Cubs playoff game live at Wrigley, the next best things is to watch it in a bar in Chicago that's packed with Cubs fans. Around 6 PM, I headed out on foot down Wabash Avenue, across Lake Shore Drive , through Grant Park and over to Soldier Field along with a crowd of other Bears fans.
There’s probably no other team as synonymous with NFL Football than the Chicago Bears. The franchise got it’s start in 1920 and for a while shared Chicago with the Cardinals before they were ousted to St. Louis in 1960. There have been so many legendary teams and players in franchise history – greats such as Grange, Nagursky, Luckman, Sayers, Butkis and Payton. Most people remember the dominant ’85 Super Bowl championship team, but one of the greatest NFL teams of all time was the 1940 Bears team who defiled the Washington Redskins in their own home in the championship game by a score of 73-0.
Almost as old as the Bears franchise is Soldier Field. Built in 1922 right off the shores of lake Michigan, it’s been the home to many famous events including the famous Dempsey – Tunney ‘long count’ boxing match in 1927. But I was actually surprised to learn that the Bears didn’t start playing here until 1970 – almost a half century after the stadium opened.
Due to the layout and angle of the seating bowl and the effect of the lakefront winds, it wasn’t the best venue for viewing football – especially in the higher
levels. For years there was talk about relocation or renovation. Renovation to the seating bowl came in 2003 with the addition of what most folks describe as the ‘spaceship’. It literally looks as if a steel and glass alien spacecraft landed down in the middle of the stadium. The result is two drastically different styles of architecture fused together which is in no way or manner pleasing to the human eye. As a result, Soldier Field was stripped of its landmark status. The benefit though was a vastly improved viewing experience for the fan.
Love it or hate it, Soldier Field is a great place for football. It’s an older stadium without any modern frills, but the atmosphere is wonderful and there are some nice features which include the Memorial Water Wall and the Doughboy statue near the gate. There are also many displays on the walls of the lower level featuring the great former Bears players and teams.
Bear Fans are devoted and hardcore – especially against division rivals – and especially on nationally televised games – which I got to see both of today.
The game was an NFC North matchup of two old foes - the Bears and Vikings. This was also the first ever game for the Bears top draft pick rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky who is taking the reins from a struggling Mike Glennon.
It was a classic NFC North smash mouth style game with lots of good defense and hard hitting. Even though his final numbers weren't great, (12 of 25 for 128 yards and a TD) Trubisky looked confident and ran the offense well. Despite this, it was Minnesota coming out on top 20-17 led by Case Keenum's three second-half scoring drives in relief of Sam Bradford. Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds after Harrison Smith intercepted Trubisky. There were plenty of fans in the stands wearing Trubisky jerseys which they must have just bought this week.
At halftime, there was this weird Star Wars themed show with a bunch of guys in storm trooper costumes marching on the field which really made no sense to anyone watching.
A nice feature was the playing of the legendary Bears fight song after every score. "Bear Down Chicago Bears" will probably be stuck in my head for days.
Food wise, there aren’t many exciting choices, which is disappointing given what a great food town Chicago is. Similar to the two baseball stadiums, it’s mainly dogs and brats (by Vienna Beef), nachos, chicken fingers and burgers. DMK burger lets you build your own burgers.
If you plan on seeing a game here, you are strongly advised to do so as early in the season as possible. The difference in climate in Chicago (especially near Lake Michigan) between September and January is remarkable.
At the beginning of the season, you are surrounded by lush, rolling acres of greenery and the opalescent blue of Lake Michigan, steps from the stately pleasures of the Museum Campus and a short walk from the center of Chicago. Bring a picnic or come to the stadium via the lakefront – it’s beautiful. At the end of the season, you are marooned in a vast, barren wasteland, battered by sub-arctic winds and far from shelter. Bring a huge thermos of hot coffee (or a flask of booze) and wear layers – it’s brutal.
Given that it’s October 9th – I was expecting a hell of a lot worse, but it was actually a very mild night with low winds and I was able to get away with only a long sleeve polo shirt and no jacket
There’s little difference between fans on the lower 100 level and the upper decks. Wherever you sit, you’re likely be surrounded by people who are engaged in the game and care about the team.
Getting to/from the stadium is pretty easy if you are staying in the Loop. It’s a bit of a walk from Michigan Ave and can be a little confusing once in Grant park – but if you follow the crowd on the way in, you won’t get lost. You really can’t do the same on the way out since not everyone is headed to the same place you are, but there are plenty of signs , lots of lights and plenty of cops to help you out. If you are coming from another neighborhood, there is a CTA stop nearby the stadium.
It's an early AM flight tomorrow back to NJ for me. The next trip is in November for some warmer temps and Florida football in Jacksonville.
Fans - B+ - Chicago fans are among the best - enthusiastic and loyal. Probably wouldn't be terribly friendly if you had on a Lions, Vikings or Packers jersey.
Features - C - An old stadium with lots of history. Wonderful architecture can still be seen throughout despite the painfully unattractive renovations
Location - B - Setting in Grant Park by the Museum Campus just off Lake Michigan is wonderful - at least through game 5 or 6 of the season.
Food - D - Pretty basic stadium fare.
Game - B - Down to the wire. Bears played tough in their rookie QB's first game.
Overall Experience - C+ - Tempted to give a higher rating given all the history and lore of Soldier Field - but maybe I'm spoiled from the last 3 stadiums I've been to.