Big Ten: Virginia McCaskey

CHICAGO -- Standing in left field Friday at the Friendly Confines, Corbin Bryant had a confession to make.

"I didn't know where Northwestern was when I got the [scholarship] offer," said Bryant, a senior defensive tackle for Northwestern. "I really didn't."

Such a statement would be acceptable for someone from Alaska or New Mexico or even Florida.

[+] EnlargeWrigley Field
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNorthwestern and Illinois will play football at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20.
Bryant grew up on the south side of Chicago.

Northwestern's campus, by the way, is less than three miles north of the Chicago city limits and about 15 miles north of downtown Chicago. In terms of the sports scene, however, Northwestern might as well be 1,500 miles away.

Forging a connection to Chicago has been and continues to be Northwestern's greatest hurdle in restoring its football program. Some argue it's the only hurdle left. Winning Big Ten titles and making bowl games are no longer pipe dreams, but filling seats at Ryan Field remains a major challenge. Despite 17 wins in the past two seasons, Northwestern ranked last in the Big Ten and 83rd nationally in average attendance (24,190) in 2009. Washington State was the only BCS conference school that drew fewer fans (22,509).

Northwestern took a big step toward bridging the gap with Chicago on Friday, announcing that it will play rival Illinois at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20 (ESPN or ESPN2, noon ET). Football returns to the Friendly Confines for the first time since 1970, when the Chicago Bears ended a 50-year run there. It marks the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938, when DePaul played there, and the first time Northwestern and Illinois meet at Clark & Addison since 1923, when some guy named Red Grange was leading Illinois to an undefeated season and a national title.

Although the Wrigley project, done in conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, took almost two years to finalize and delayed Northwestern from sending out its 2010 season-ticket requests, Friday's announcement was a big moment for the school. Sure, it was nice to have cheerleaders on hand, signs around the ballpark and more purple than Wrigley has ever seen, but the most significant part was who attended the ceremony.

Fitzgerald, Bryant and quarterback Dan Persa sat alongside new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey. Former Bears running back Ronnie Bull, who played football at Wrigley, also was on hand.

McCaskey spoke about coming to Wrigley Field as a young girl to watch her father, the legendary George Halas, coach the Bears.

"I'm delighted to be here to participate in the announcement of a new era of football in Wrigley Field," she said.

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