Chicago Colleges: Wrigley Field
CHICAGO -- Illinois coach Tim Beckman and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald expressed interest Friday in playing more football games in Chicago.
Illinois and Northwestern played before a sold-out crowd at Wrigley Field in 2010. It was the first football game at Wrigley Field since 1970, and the game was made further unique because the teams were only allowed to play west-to-east due to safety concerns with the east end zone’s proximity to the outfield wall.
Beckman, in his first year at Illinois, thought Solider Field was more apt for future Chicago games because of the obstacles at Wrigley Field.
“I think they’ve talked about the logistics and make sure everyone can run a game in a stadium first and foremost, Soldier’s more (ready than Wrigley),” Beckman said at the Big Ten media days on Friday.
But as much as Beckman would like to play in Chicago, he doesn’t want to give up a seventh home game to do so.
“I talked to (athletic director) Mike Thomas quite about possibly doing (Chicago) every other year because we will be playing up here once every other year, playing the team (Northwestern) up state, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the seven home games at Memorial Stadium. … I’d like to keep the seven games in Champaign as much as I can.”
Fitzgerald is more flexible with his seventh home game, and he also was interested in playing other teams beside the Illini in Chicago.
“We’re going to look at all options that we have to continue solidifying ourselves as Chicago’s Big Ten team,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously the game at Wrigley was a huge success. It was a bowl game in the best sports city. We’re going to take advantage of what we have in our front yard, which is Chicago.”
Fitzgerald said he’d be willing to play in Wrigley Field again only if the teams could use both end zones. He also thought Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field were possibilities.
“I think everything is realistic, absolutely,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think we’re going to play at Carl Sandburg High School. Ryan Field is going to be our home field. We’re going to play there. Years we have seven games, I’m open to anything.
“I think everybody in Chicago has expressed interest (in hosting a football game.) We’re not going to play indoors. We’re not going to play at the United Center, those kind of things. There are great venues here. It’s a pretty unique set of circumstances having Chicago in your front yard.”
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Ryan O'Donnell spent a good five minutes trying to situate himself atop the broad shoulders of fellow University of Illinois student Frank Toland. It might not have been such a chore if O'Donnell hadn't been wearing an full-body spandex Orangeman costume.
This approach was in line with O'Donnell's simple Orangeman philosophy: “Get loud. Make sure you're noticed.”
O'Donnell has honed his craft at Illini football games this season.
Illinois, which is currently debating whether or not it will find a new mascot after Chief Illiniwek's retirement, has a volunteer in O'Donnell.
“I'm down with that,” he said when asked whether he'd be willing to step up in Chief Illiniwek's absence. “Sounds like a good mascot to me: The Orangeman.”
O'Donnell joined several of the eccentrically dressed Saturday prior to the Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field.
Among the costumed was Jeff Schell, a 2004 Northwestern grad. He sported a purple velour frock, ascot and a Elvis-style wig tucked under an NU hat.
“I'm supposed to be Prince,” he said. “But I guess that works, too.”
It certainly isn't the first time Schell has gone all out for a Northwestern game.
“Basically, I try to one-up myself every time with any purple costume that's relatively well known.”
“This,” he said, referring to his Prince costume, “is an achievement for me.”
While Schell's getup was certainly impressive, few went as far as one particular 43-year-old fan, who pointed out that he's married with five children.
For reasons made evident by his purple and white painted face and bald head -- a look he said was inspired by the Blue Man Group -- this rabid Wildcats fan asked that his name not be used.
“My kids aren't coming out to the game today,” he said. “They think I'm a little pathetic.”
Pathetic, maybe. But in this scene, he fit right in.
The last time Jeff McKenzie saw football at Wrigley Field, “it was cold and the players seemed huge,” he said while standing among the gathered crowd at Clark and Addison streets for the taping of ESPN's "College GameDay."
Forty-two years later, McKenzie, a 1984 Northwestern grad, will again take in a football game at Wrigley -- this time with his own son, 2003 Northwestern grad Zach McKenzie.
As Zach held up a sign -- an oversized photo of himself beaming in Wildcat purple -- Jeff recalled seeing the game with his father as a 6 year old.
“It was fun,” he said. “My dad was totally into it. When you're a little kid and your father's into the game, you get into the game because of it. It's great to be able to share this with my son.”
McKenzie isn't the only fan excited to see football back at Wrigley.
Mike Hayes, a 1975 Northwestern grad who lives five blocks from the stadium, was there when the Bears beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-16 in 1970.
“The first thing I thought of when I heard they were going to play here was how close the end line was to the left field wall in those days,” Hayes said. “I don't know why all the controversy [about the field configuration] came about yesterday, but it's the first thing I thought of. It's a great happening to have the game here, but it's just not a great venue. It wasn't built for football.”
Hayes was admittedly initially skeptical about the Wildcats holding a game at Wrigley -- his seats at Ryan Field in Evanston are situated at the 50-yard line – but he's come around to the idea, noting that it felt like a second homecoming game for the school.
“I think they've done a really good job publicizing it and making the most of it,” Hayes said. "I've been won over.”
Nevertheless, he's hoping his seats are better than they were in 1970.
"I remember that from the Bears games -- there were a lot of terrible seats," he said.
When, where: 2:35 p.m. at Wrigley Field in Chicago
Radio: WIND-560 AM, WGN-720 AM
What you need to know: The actual game between Illinois and Northwestern has almost become secondary to everything else that has occurred this week leading up to the first football game at Wrigley Field since 1970. The biggest news came Friday when the Big Ten decided only the west end zone would be used due to concerns over the proximity of Wrigley's right-field wall to the east end zone. As for the game, it's a vital one for Illinois. The Illini are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Minnesota and still need another win to become bowl eligible. Illinois' defense has been suspect over the last few weeks and may need to straighten itself out to save coach Ron Zook's job. Northwestern does have its own issue. After delivering the game-winning touchdown pass against Iowa last week, junior quarterback Dan Persa, who had been among the best in the country, suffered a season-ending injury. In steps redshirt freshman Evan Watkins to make his first collegiate starter. The Wildcats have put themselves in a favorable position now with seven wins.
Scott Powers' prediction: Northwestern 27, Illinois 21
Notre Dame (5-5) vs. Army (6-4) on Saturday
When, where: 6:30 p.m. at Yankee Stadium in New York City
Radio: WLS-AM 890.
Web: und.com, goarmysports.com
What you need to know: Confidence is high for Notre Dame, which got back to .500 with a dominant performance against Utah in a 28-3 victory last weekend. Army beat Kent State last week to become bowl eligible. The 50th installment of this great rivalry picks up after the Irish topped the Black Knights in 2006. The top storyline for Notre Dame is whether or not it can stop a triple-option offense after struggling mightily against the same look versus Navy. If Brian Kelly's squad can make the necessary adjustments, it will earn a postseason invitation that looked unlikely just a couple weeks ago. Freshman quarterback Tommy Rees was poised against the Utes, completing 13-of-20 pass attempts for 129 yards and three touchdowns. Senior receiver Duval Kamara, getting more playing time due to many injuries on that unit, caught two of those TDs. Notre Dame, led by sophomore Cierre Wood, also managed to put up 127 rushing yards against Utah. Safety Harrison Smith continues to have a banner season with three interceptions for ND. Army averages less than 90 yards passing per game but moves the ball effectively on the ground, averaging 273 yards per contest. Paced by Jared Hassin, the Black Knights boast four players averaging over 40 rushing yards per game, including QB Trent Steelman, who also has thrown for five scores.
Wes Morgan's prediction: Notre Dame 31, Army 24.
Northern Illinois (8-2) at Ball State (4-7) on Saturday
When, where: 11 a.m. at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind.
Radio: WSCR-670 AM
What you need to know: Northern Illinois is one of the hottest teams in the country right now. The Huskies have won seven straight and should make it eight against a Ball State team that has struggled for most of the season. Northern Illinois also had had plenty of time to prepare for this game with its last one occurring on Nov. 9. Running back Chad Spann and quarterback Chandler Harnish have been stellar all season. Spann has rushed 1,070 yards and 15 touchdowns. Harnish has compiled 2,309 total yards of offense and scored 18 touchdowns.
Powers' prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Ball State 13
Indiana State (6-4) at Southern Illinois (4-6) on Saturday
When, where: 1 p.m. at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Ill.
What you need to know: The 2010 season has been a rocky one for Southern Illinois, but the Salukis can end it on a high note with a win over Indiana State. Southern Illinois is coming off a 20-10 win over Western Illinois. Jayson DiManche had three sacks in the win, Western Illinois had negative seven yards rushing against the Salukis' defense. Indiana State's last five games have been decided by 12 points or less.
Powers' prediction: Southern Illinois 27, Indiana State 24
Northern Iowa (7-3) at Western Illinois (6-4) on Saturday
When, where: 1 p.m. at Hanson Field in Macomb, Ill.
What you need to know: Western Illinois has yet to lose at Hanson Field this season. The Leathernecks are 5-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. Western Illinois ranks second in total offense in the FCS. It would help its chances of receiving an FCS Playoffs' berth with a win over a tough Northern Iowa team. The Panthers have defeated Western Illinois in six of their last seven meetings.
Powers' prediction: Northern Iowa 37, Western Illinois 31
Banks will join ESPN's GameDay crew as it sets up at Clark and Addison before the Northwestern-Illinois tilt. The game made headlines Friday when the Big Ten announced each team will head into the west end zone when it's on offense.
"I don't know what to expect behind us," Chris Fowler said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I'm told the street's open, and we're at a McDonald's parking lot. We expect a good crowd."
The show is from 8-11 a.m. CT.
"We were over there most of the day today," Kirk Herbstreit said, "and to see that football field laid out -- and I know there's been a lot of attention about the wall -- but just to see that stadium with its history, and to see a football field on it ... I thought they did a nice job with Northwestern banners making it seem like a college football environment."
Herbstreit agreed with Friday's decision, and said despite everything, the players will enjoy the moment.
"I think the game, despite all the talk about the teams having to head in one direction, I think it's going to be a lot of fun for these players," he said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "I think they wanted to avoid a potential disaster. It is what it is. I put myself in the shoes of the players and coaches, you improvise and adjust."
The event is sort of a coming home for Fowler.
"As a kid who grew up in Rockford, Wrigley Field to me meant birthdays every year, late '60s, early '70s," Fowler said. "I grew up a huge Cubs fan, and a huge fan of the Chicago sports scene. Lloyd Pettit doing old Blackhawks games was the reason I got in this business."
Banks will sing at approximately 10 a.m. CT. Mike Ditka also be part of the show around 10:45 CT.
"There may be some other Cubs greats," Fowler said. "It's not a baseball show. It's a football show, but we'll tip the cap to the Cubs and the great sports history of Chicago."
There will be a net behind the crew, "just in case there's a flying object coming our way," Fowler said.
GameDay's first road trip was in 1993, when No. 1 Florida State visited No. 2 Notre Dame.
"We turned the corner in mid-to-late 90s, when schools lobbied for us, and coaches saw the recruiting value," he said. "I never would have imagined this."
Because of safety concerns regarding the proximity of the right-field wall to the east end zone, whichever team is on offense will head east.
The following is the Cubs' statement:
“The Chicago Cubs are surprised by the Big Ten's last-minute statement regarding changes for tomorrow's Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field. Let there be no doubt: the safety of the student-athletes has been – and remains – the number one priority since the concept of this game was first discussed more than a year ago, and all parties have gone to complete lengths to ensure student-athlete safety for this contest.
“The essential item in our negotiations to host the football game at Wrigley Field was obtaining approval of both universities and the Big Ten for the field dimensions as related to player safety issues. The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference. Last month, the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved by the Big Ten. Last week, a Big Ten official performed an on-site visit at Wrigley Field, participated in a field walk-thru and raised no issue with the field dimensions, painted lines and boundaries previously approved by the Big Ten.
“This game would not have been scheduled if it did not pass the strict and meticulous standards of everyone involved, a process that began more than a year ago. All are in agreement Wrigley Field is a safe venue to host a football game. Other baseball parks, including tomorrow night's game in Yankee Stadium, feature similar football field-to-venue grid dimensions and rule changes are not considered for football games played in other baseball parks.
“We have reached out to the Big Ten to further discuss the playing field. While we are surprised by this morning's last-minute statement, all agree that tomorrow will be an historic event and a wonderful experience for the fans, the schools and the student-athletes.”
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TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35