“It’s a pretty special place.”
-Bill Belichick on Soldier Field
I remember the first time I saw it.
December 1st 2001.
Noah and I had driven from New York to Chicago, with a layover in some shitty town in western Pennsylvania. We drove north up Lake Shore Drive en route to our cheap hotel room booked, ironically now, in Arlington Heights.
It appeared out of nowhere. Not through a Lake Michigan fog or Arthurian mist, mind you, but through the naïve haze of “I don’t know where the fuck I am and WAIT IS THAT SOLDIER FIELD????”
I got emotional. I couldn’t help it. It was only a few moments but in those few moments I thought of a lifetime of seeing this team, loving this team, admiring this building, in all the weird ways an out of town fan had to in the years before NFL Sunday Ticket.
I thought about the photograph of three year-old me in a Jim McMahon shirt. A shirt I still have, and until very recently, was kept on a King Louie stuffed animal.
I thought about my Steve McMichael and Richard Dent Starting Lineup figures. And how I would play with them on this Chicago Bears football field carpet I got for Christmas.
I thought about going to Jets games in the Meadowlands, in our family’s season tickets, dressed all in Bears shit and cheering every time the out of town scoreboard updated in the building. After a while the section joined in those cheers and became Bears fans.
Until that moment on Lake Shore, Soldier Field was a character on television. Gordon Shumway. George Costanza. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. You don’t meet those people because those people are not real. But here was Soldier Field. Real. And in a day I would get to walk through those gates.
What Do I Love About Soldier Field?
A buddy of mine, a construction guy in Woodside, met me at our local last Friday and asked me about “the Soldier Field thing”. I explained it to him as best I could, handing him my phone and Twitter feed for ten minutes while he laughed and laughed and laughed. His response was great. “You can’t get rid of Soldier Field. That’s like Fenway.” (I guess he’s a Red Sox fan but I don’t know that much about him.)
That’s what I love about Soldier Field. It’s a piece of American sports history. I travel to old, historic cities like Bruges and Dinan. I drink in old taverns, with stories etched in the barstools. When we sit and watch a football game at Soldier Field we become part of that building’s history, part of the story.
The fact that it is actually IN the city is one of its coolest elements. Soldier Field is a part of Chicago’s cityscape in a way that no other NFL stadium can claim to be. New York doesn’t have that. Los Angeles doesn’t have that. San Francisco and Houston and Dallas and Washington DC don’t have that. When you leave the building, marching with thousands upon thousands of other either jubilant or despairing fans, you’re deposited directly back into town. Back onto the L. Or into Kroll’s. Or into an Uber with Lou Malnati’s as the only logical destination.
The Bears are Chicago. Soldier Field is a big reason why.
Does Soldier Have Flaws? Of Course.
Does the building have enough men’s rooms? No. (Does any sports facility?)
Is it supremely cold in the dead of winter? Yes. (But so is the rest of the city. You want to move the whole town to the tropical climate of Arlington Heights?)
But you know what Soldier’s most pronounced flaw is? It’s the folks who sell their tickets to the out of town fans. Having been in that building 15 times, I have never seen the building more than 60 or 70% Bears fans. A third of the seats (at least) are always inhabited by those cheering for the opponents.