Sports fans one and all love trivia questions.
So, as the Chicago Bears vacillate between exciting, exasperating, and mystifying (Great victory thanks to newly dominant offense! Horrific defeat thanks to utter incompetence in all three phases! Not-so-great victory thanks to…whatever!), let’s get trivial.
Q: Who threw the last passes ever on the turf of Soldier Field before it was renovated?
Hit rewind in the brain, don’t just Google it.
That would be the 2001 Bears, who went 13-3 and had home-field advantage in the playoffs against Philadelphia in January 2002. Which mediocre passers were lining up at QB for the Bears that year? Jim Miller and Shane Matthews, yes? Donovan McNabb for Philly, right? So it had to be one of those guys.
Well, maybe in an Official-NFL-Records kind of way. But not existentially: the last people to toss around a football on that turf, before demolition crews obliterated years of Chicago history, were Bears fans Tom and Trevor Kay, along with Chicago Tribune reporter Liam T. A. Ford.
Ford described the situation as the disappointed Bears fans left old Soldier Field for the last time, and demolition crews went to work:
“But minutes after the game clock ran out, almost no one remained, except for those 200 workers pulling out seats, a spokesman for the renovation project, myself, and Tom and Trevor Kay.
“Tom Kay had brought his son to the game that night because he wanted Trevor, then 12, to remember the stadium Tom had grown up with. As crews began lowering the goalposts, Tom and Trevor climbed down onto the field carrying a football. I went down and talked to them for a few minutes. Tom threw the football to me, I shot a few photos of him and his son with a disposable camera, and they left. Two weeks later, Tom e-mailed me: ‘It was, even in a Bears’ loss, a great day for my son and me.’”
To understand that stadium and its many traditions, Ford went on to write “Soldier Field: A Stadium and Its City,” a vital history that all Chicago sports fans should read. Since 1971 when George Halas and the Bears abandoned Wrigley Field for Soldier Field (in part at the behest of Mayor Richard J. Daley), the original stadium and its successor have been primarily associated in Chicagoans’ minds with the NFL charter franchise and its ups and downs (OK, mostly downs).
But Soldier Field was much more to Chicagoans over its long history: it hosted the largest gathering of Roman Catholics in history. Politicians (from right-wing to revolutionary) addressed vast crowds. The Chicago Fire was re-enacted.
Ford’s book brings all of that history, and more, back to life and gets beyond the trivia to the importance of public spaces like Soldier Field in the history of Chicago and the lives of Chicagoans.
One fact to give a taste of this book’s rich offerings: during the rebuilding process, there was talk of whether the Park District or the Bears would sell naming rights to the new stadium. Public and political outrage ensued: Soldier Field was a shrine to our veterans and should never be re-named, people successfully argued. But in the drive to get the stadium built in the early 1920s, many Chicagoans—including the parents of American soldiers killed in the Great War—argued the exact opposite point. It was undignified to have the sacrifices made by so many associated with a sports stadium. Such a trivial place lacked the dignity required for a war memorial.
What counts as trivial, it seems, changes over time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ChicagoSide contributor Bill Savage will be interviewing Liam Ford as part of the University of Chicago’s Chicago by the Book Series, Tuesday night, October 2, at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr. 6:30-8:00 pm, $10 fee. Register here.
STORY ART: Main image courtesy mindfrieze/cc.