The ultimate sports travel weekend?
If you're a fan of sports nostalgia, then your stars are in alignment from Sept. 15-17, when you can road trip to Wrigley Field, Notre Dame Stadium and Lambeau Field for a weekend steeped in tradition, in three of sports' most historic venues.
Chicago: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
Reds at Cubs, 1:20 p.m. CT
Wrigley Field (est. 1914)
In the city of broad shoulders, thick pizzas, Oprah, MJ and "Da Bears!," Chicago's most famous resident may be the old lady constructed at the corner of Clark and Addison streets in 1914 to be the home of the Federal League's Chicago Whales.
You know her as Wrigley Field (1060 W. Addison St., Web site), though she was previously dubbed Weeghman Park (1914-1920) and Cubs Park (1920-25). The Cubs took occupancy in 1916, and are well on their way to providing, for the 91st consecutive year, an opportunity for fans to utter the familiar "Wait 'til Next Year!" refrain.
Fortunately, a century of heartbreak and "lovable losing" isn't enough to ruin a good party. Unburdened as they are by expectations of winning, Cubs fans are committed to throwing baseball's best party, win or lose. They deliver, turning Wrigleyville into just about the happiest place in America during every homestand.
This isn't a party you're going to want to drive to -- if you can find one, a parking spot may cost you upwards of $30. Park a few stops away and join the locals on the 'El' train (Web site). The Addison St. exit is a pop-fly from the right-field entrance, where a Harry Caray statue prominently greets all comers. Apparently the Chip Caray statue lacked sufficient funding.
The neighborhood is abuzz several hours before the first pitch is thrown. Vendors, scalpers and pregame revelers vie for sidewalk space with fans coming in and out of the many restaurants, souvenir shops and watering holes. It's a five-star people-watching scene, so wear your sunglasses, you lascivious beast.
During batting practice, take a trip beyond the left field fence on Waveland Ave. and join the ball hawks. Has any group suffered more from baseball's get-tough-on-steroids stance? Nevertheless, you'll have a fighting chance at a few prodigious pokes. If you catch one, you can linger near the fence of the player parking lot (first base side) after the game and have a shot to get it autographed.
If you don't require a lot of elbow room, take on the crowds at Murphy's Bleachers (3655 N. Sheffield Ave., Web site), Hi-Tops (3551 N. Sheffield Ave., Web site)or the Cubby Bear (1059 W. Addison St., Web site), all with great pre- and post-game scenes. Or walk down Clark Street for an array of dining and drinking options.
Save room for bratwurst (demand the onions and peppers) or an Italian beef sandwich, a Chicago specialty. Though Wrigley lacks a signature item, both hit the spot, especially when you wash 'em down with a cold Old Style, the beer of choice at Wrigley. Show a little restraint; the restroom lines are a test of even the most rigid bladder.
If restraint isn't in your vocabulary, you'll enjoy the bleachers, where drinking a beer an inning is encouraged. Don't worry... they're friendly drunks (dueling "left field sucks!"/"right field sucks!" chants notwithstanding) and it's typically 10-20 degrees warmer.
After the game, your options are endless. For big-ticket entertainment, head to the Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island (1300 S. Lynn White Dr., Web site) -- nestled right on Lake Michigan -- for the doublebill of Tom Petty and the Strokes.
If you want a taste of Chicago, find a slice of deep dish pizza. The masses flock to Gino's East (633 N. Wells, near the Chicago Ave. 'El' stop, Web site) and for good reason, but shorter lines await at the competition -- Giordano's (many locations, Web site), Lou Malnati's (many locations, Web site), and the original Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio St., Web site) among them. If pizza's not your thing, pay homage to the Cubs curse at the Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan Ave., Web site) -- made famous as the "Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Cheezborger!" setting on Saturday Night Live back in the day -- or go upscale in one of America's best restaurant cities.
Walk the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue to burn a few calories and share your money with Chicago's high-end retailers. While there, seek out Garrett Popcorn Shop (many locations, Web site). It's worth the wait, but be forewarned, once you've had their caramel corn, you'll accept no substitutes.
An evening in Chicago wouldn't be complete without at least a cameo on Rush Street, just to say you were there, though the proliferation of neighborhood bars means you don't have to make a long journey to find a great hangout.
If your eyelids aren't too heavy, end your evening at a Chicago institution, legendary blues bar Kingston Mines (2548 N. Halsted St., Web site). Don't stay out too late; you have a two-hour drive to South Bend.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA
Michigan at Notre Dame, 2:40 p.m. CT
Notre Dame Stadium (est. 1930)
The 102-mile journey from Chicago to South Bend will take approximately two hours. It might feel like four, because there's not much too see along the way (though back in the day Charley Finley's 200-acre farm in La Porte was easily recognizable with the 'A's' logo emblazoned atop the barn).
There's more to see as you approach some of college football's most hallowed ground,
including the College Football Hall of Fame (111 South St. Joseph St., Web site). Located a few short blocks from the Notre Dame campus, the Hall opens at 8 a.m. on football Saturdays, so make the trip before venturing to the game.
With parking at a premium, stash your car at neighboring St. Mary's College. The pleasant tree-lined walk takes you past the most famous grotto east of Hef's mansion. At the Cave of Candles (a replica of the grotto at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, About), visitors can make an offering, light a candle and say a prayer (for Charlie Weis, perhaps).
You shoudn't have any trouble spotting one of the most famous campus landmarks in America, the Golden Dome (Web cam) atop the school's Main Building. It is in deference to this monument that the Fighting Irish wear gold helmets.
The adjacent spire is The Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Web site), where the entire Notre Dame team will attend a pregame mass. As soon as it ends, a couple of hours before game time, the Fighting Irish will emerge from the back of the church and walk to battle, as spectators line the entire route to Notre Dame Stadium to provide encouraging words. The band will make a similar entrance in a processional that begins on the steps of Bond Hall.
Tailgating at Notre Dame Stadium is a fairly conservative affair, even if some of the outfits aren't... yes, Mr. Plaid Pants, I mean you. At these shindigs, style counts. Beer and brats meets wine and cheese at these ritualistic gatherings.
Enter Notre Dame Stadium (Web site) in time to see the reflected sun glisten off the helmets when coach Weis and his charges jog through the tunnel toward midfield. Imagine Knute Rockne making the same run in 1930, shortly after the stadium was completed at the cost of $750,000. Rockne christened the building with an undefeated season and a national championship. Months later, in March 1931, he died in a plane crash at the age of 43.
Certainly, there's more than one Irish fan to witness every home game since 1964, but the most famous is Touchdown Jesus (Web site), who resides on a 134-foot mural on the South façade of the Hesburgh Library. In the granite mural, which looms visibly beyond the North end zone, Christ is depicted with his arms raised.
Some might say he's about as demonstrative as the average Irish fan. The crowd is more mild than wild, perhaps fearful that expressing their individuality might be met with a rap on the knuckles.
Win or lose, the postgame pageantry is worth sticking around for; the marching band concludes the proceedings with the playing of each team's fight song and, finally, the alma mater.
Afterward, hit the postgame mass at the Basilica, or grab a beer at Corby's (441 E. LaSalle Ave., 574-233-5326) or the Linebacker Lounge (1631 South Bend Ave., Web site), but don't lollygag, because you still have five-and-a-half hours of driving... a drive Paul Hornung has probably made a time or two.
Milwaukee's a logical stopping point, three-and-a-half hours from South Bend and only two from Green Bay. Along the way, stop at The Brat Stop (12304 75th St., Web site) in Kenosha for a taste of local flavor. If you make good time, finish your night on Water Street, perhaps at Rosie's (1111 N. Water St., 414-274-7213), where Sir Charles once introduced his fist to a heckler.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 17
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN
Saints at Packers, noon CT
Lambeau Field (est. 1957)
Though they no longer resemble the Super Bowl contenders of recent seasons, the Green Bay Packers are still adored in Wisconsin, where old habits die hard (if they ever die at all) and one can remain on the 70,000-name season-ticket waiting list for two decades or more.
Lucky fans are those whose tickets are willed by the previous generation. Unlucky are the ones whose ducats become the focal point of divorce proceedings.
Assuming you have friends in high places, wooed a victorious divorcee or were willing to pay a premium on the secondary market, you're going to want to get an early start, since you'll be one of several thousand making the trek North.
From 1953-94, the Pack played three games a year in Milwaukee, and the team still has a separate season ticket package (1 preseason, 2 regular season games) for Milwaukee fans. Today's game is one of those, so there will be an inordinate number of fans (and cops!) on the highway. You'll also see several booze cruise buses chartered by Milwaukee bars and businesses, a popular way to refrain from drinking and driving.
The drive is hardly scenic, so the sudden sight of an 80,000-seat stadium in the middle of nowhere is stark and surreal. The stadium parking lots fill up early; you can do your part for the local economy by parking on a lawn. Most homeowners near the stadium gleefully accommodate guests for a reasonable fee.
Don't walk to the stadium, walk around it, among the tailgaters. Strike up a conversation with a warm-souled Midwesterner in a green and gold RV. Identify yourself as a first-time visitor and you'll likely be invited to partake of a feast worthy of a king, then invited back. The briquettes start burning early; you'll find just about any meat you can buy (or shoot), and plenty of cold beer.
Vanity doesn't play at Lambeau, where Zubaz are still an acceptable form of fashion. Despite an unfortunate color scheme, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone not sporting Packer colors, unless they're Saints fans mingling with the generations of locals who have been coming since City Stadium opened in 1957. (It was renamed after team founder Curly Lambeau in 1965.)
Now on the cusp of its 50th birthday, Lambeau Field (1265 Lombardi Ave., Web site) is the longest continually occupied stadium in the NFL. A $295 million facelift from 2001-03 has updated the facility without diminishing its historic charm.
The centerpiece of the renovation is the Lambeau Field Atrium (Web site), an addition that has made Lambeau viable for year-round corporate and civic use, and includes team offices, seven eateries, interactive exhibits, an expanded pro shop and the 25,000 square-foot Packers Hall of Fame (Web site), which opens at 8 a.m. for ticket-holders. Atrium visitors are greeted by 14-foot statues of Lambeau and Vince Lombardi.
Another benefit of the renovation is that the volume of restrooms has doubled, so grab a beer and behold the awesome view that awaits when you first enter the bowl. This alone makes the trip worthwhile regardless of which team Brett Favre is throwing to.
After the game, grab a burger to remember at Kroll's (1990 S. Ridge Road, Web site), an institution long before Lombardi came to down. Or head to Anduzzi's (1992 Holmgren Way, 920-965-1111), The Bar (2001 Holmgren Way, 920-499-9989), or Stadium View (1963 Holmgren Way, Web site) for food, libations and live music.
If you have any energy left, get to Milwaukee by 8:00 and end your weekend with one more historical icon, James Brown, who plays the Milwaukee Theatre (400 W. Wisconsin Ave., Web site) that night.
Bill Evans is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.