Pro Sports Stadium Profile: Soldier Field

Designed in 1919 and opened on October 9, 1924, the stadium was first known as Municipal Grant Park Stadium. It was re-named Soldiers Field on November 11, 1925 to honor soldiers who had died in previous wars. A Chicago newspaper actually held a contest that ultimately resulted in renaming the stadium “Soldiers Field.” The name was made official with a plaque unveiled at a formal celebration held during the 29th Annual Army-Navy Game played there on Saturday, November 27, 1926.

Modeled after the Greco-Roman style of architecture, the front façade featured then and now Doric columns at the entrance giving it a distinct look not seen in other stadiums.

The original stadium was U-shaped and included seating for 74,280 spectators. Seating could be added to particular parts of the stadium including the upper promenades, an open field and a terrace beyond the north end zone giving it a total seating capacity of more than 100,000.

The Chicago Bears did not call Soldiers Field home until 1971 after they moved from Wrigley Field, their original home stadium that also accommodated the Chicago Cubs MLB team. The Bears move had become necessary because the team needed a larger venue after the AFL-NFL merger. The agreement between the two leagues required that stadiums had to be able to seat more than 50,000.

Due to the capacity requirements, the Chicago Bears organization had first decided to build a stadium in the Arlington Heights section of Chicago. However, the Bears and the Chicago Park District, which owned the stadium, opted for a renovation and a 20-year lease in 1978. The Bears and the Chicago Park District paid for the alterations.

There were a number of times during the years that the Bears considered leaving the stadium, but chose to renovate instead.

In 1989 there was a proposal for the construction of a dome stadium, but the Illinois State Legislature discarded the idea in 1990. As a result, Michael McCaskey, president of the team, pondered relocation. About that time the Bears organization had purchased options on land in Hoffman Estate and Aurora. In 1995, McCaskey said that he and Northwest Indiana developers would construct an entertainment complex called Planet Park, which would include a stadium. However, that plan was shot down by the Lake County Council, which had jurisdiction over the property. In 1998 then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley suggested that the team share Comiskey Park with the Chicago White Sox.

In 2001, the Chicago Park District agreed to renovations. The group was widely criticized because several segments of the city opposed any changes to the structure. Still, the work went on as planned.

The interior of the stadium was demolished and then reconstructed while the exterior was preserved.

Site of Many Sports Events

Soldiers Field has been the venue for a large variety of sports events including:

  • More than 100,000 watched the 1926 Army-Navy Game, which ended in a tie 21-21 and helped Navy get selected the national champions.
  • On November 26, 1927 Notre Dame beat the University of Southern California 7-6. The crowd of more than 123,000 set the all-time collegiate attendance record.
  • 41 College All-Star Games, pitting the previous year’s NFL champions against a team of college all-stars.
  • The 1985 NFC Championship Game: Bears 24 Los Angeles Rams 0.
  • The 1988 NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers 28 Bears 3.
  • The 2006 NFC Championship Game: Bears 21 New Orleans Saints 14.
  • The 2010 NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers 21 Bears 14
  • 1985 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Bears 21 New York Giants 0
  • 1986 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Washington Redskins 27 Bears 13.
  • 1987 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Washington 21 Bears 17
  • 1988 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Bears 20 Philadelphia Eagles 12 (known as the Fog Bowl because a dense fog shrouded the field reducing visibility to 15-20 yards.
  • 1990 NFC Wild Card Game: Bears 16 New Orleans Saints 6.
  • 1991 NFC Wild Card Game: Dallas Cowboys 17 Bears 13.
  • 2001 NFC Divisional Playoff Game: Philadelphia 33 Bears 19.
  • 2005 NFC Divisional Playoff Game: Carolina Panthers 29 Bears 21.
  • 2006 NFC Divisional Playoff Game: Bears 27 Seattle Seahawks 24 (OT)
  • 2010 NFC Divisional Playoff Game: Bears 35 Seattle 24
  • 1994 World Cup
  • 1999 Women’s World Cup
  • 2014 NHL Stadium Series Chicago Blackhawks 5 Pittsburgh Penguins 1.

In addition, The Grateful Dead held a concert there on July 8-9, 1995. The band’s lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia died a month later. The Dead celebrated its 50th anniversary with a concert there on July 3-5, 2015.

On September 22, 1927, the Heavyweight Championship was fought at Soldiers Field. Known as the “Long Count Fight” or the “Battle of The Long Count,” Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey.

Graphic via brittanymarques, tophdgallery

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