Where to start? I guess at the beginning: The Chicago Bears bussed to Soldier Field on Friday night for their annual Family Night practice at Soldier Field. After examining the playing surface, however, they turned around and went back to Bourbonnais, Ill., for a closed late-night practice.
Locally, this is a big story because fans were already filing into the stadium when the decision was made. I don't think I would be thrilled to have fought through Friday afternoon traffic only to find out the event was canceled at the last moment.
From a bigger picture, however, this episode serves as one of the most glaring examples yet of the Chicago Park District's inability to maintain serviceable grass at Soldier Field. It's one thing for the turf to be torn up by midseason. It's another for it to have sand-filled gaps in the first week of August.
Soldier Field general manager Tim LeFevour told Zach Zaidman of the Bears radio network that the grounds crew had a "miscalculation" on how much water to put on the field. The result is what you see in this photograph from Zaidman and another photograph from Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. It's true that the Bears were originally scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame preseason game this weekend, but that event was canceled July 21. You would like to think that two weeks would be enough time to get the field ready.
You don't want to go overboard in criticism of a sloppy training camp practice field, especially since the Bears immediately recognized it and didn't put their players at risk. But let's be real. Soldier Field is one of 32 NFL stadiums in the country. It's a basic expectation for the field to be playable anytime between August and January.
It's worth noting the Bears are scheduled to play a preseason game there a week from Saturday. Is it possible to rehabilitate the turf that fast? Are the Bears doomed to an even worse playing field this season than they normally have? Linebacker Brian Urlacher said this summer that the turf is a "disaster." Now, more players are growing concerned. Here's what place-kicker Robbie Gould, who is also the team's player representative, posted on Twitter:
"Field conditions this bad this early in the season is inexcusable. This is becoming a reoccurring problem and needs addressed"
We all know the Bears prefer a torn-up field over Field Turf. This spring, team president Ted Phillips made clear the organization considers the grass a home-field advantage. I have no doubt that it is, but there is a fine line to walk here.
The Bears are trusting that the Park District, which owns and operates the stadium, can maintain safety guidelines in the environment of less-than-ideal conditions. If the Park District made an August watering "miscalculation" that forced the cancellation of a practice, how confident should we be that it will provide a safe field this season? Will this be the incident that finally leads to the installation of Field Turf? Stay tuned.