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Sweet Home Field Chicago: Soldier Field Turf Is The Bears '12th Man'

The Chicago Bears have their own 12th Man, and he'll trip you up, if you're not careful.

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In many ways, it doesn't matter where you are in America anymore. The Big Mac you eat in New Hampshire tastes just the same as the one in Arizona. The Wal-Mart in Buffalo sells the identical items as the Wal-Mart in Fort Worth. Not just every city, but almost every single town has the same strip mall where you'll find a convenience store, a dry cleaner and possibly a real estate office. Sure, there are things that set all of us apart from one another: local cuisine, historical landmarks, the weather. But the mall culture that pervades our society tends to affect even those places we imagine to be unique in the world, like the Chili's in Times Square, or the Taco Bell near Fisherman's Wharf. We can have the same sensory experience most anywhere we go.

That's certainly true in the world of sporting venues. They're developed by large corporations, and planned down to the most minute detail: how to get you in and out efficiently, how to get the maximum number of seats to sell, how many bathrooms containing how many toilets. Sightlines, concessions, souvenirs -- whether you're conscious of it or not, when you go to see a professional sports team, your experience has been planned for you as much as it possibly can be.

And if you're watching indoors, the experience is even more generic. Minneapolis looks just like Toronto, which looks just like Detroit, which looks exactly the same as New Orleans.

But not in our town, baby. Not in Chicago.

Soldier Field is one of a kind, a weird hybrid of old concrete pillars and modern steel and glass. It's got a feel to it that few other stadiums in this country can match. At once you're downtown, in the park, and by the lake. Even if you close your eyes, when that wind blows in off Lake Michigan, you know where you are.

And when the Detroit Lions, or the Minnesota Vikings, or even the vaunted New England Patriots come out of the tunnel? They know where they are too.

Is the turf in Soldier Field the absolute ideal playing surface for professional football?

Probably not. Science, when it's not busy perfecting the just-under-four-hour-male enhancement drug, has conjured up several "improvements" over nature's inferior product.

Grass is passé. Playing surfaces are engineered, not grown.

Jay Cutler recently renewed the annual grass vs. artificial turf debate, when he called it "one of the worst in the NFL." That gave the usual suspects in the traditional media all the justification they needed to whip out various quotes and unscientific surveys that supposedly demonstrate what a terrible thing it is to play football on grass.

Hilariously, the Chicago Park District even got involved in the controversy, sounding rather hurt about the whole thing. The Park District is in charge of maintaining Soldier Field, as it's on Park District property.

Somewhere up there Richard J. Daley and Mike Royko are laughing themselves silly. They were two guys who appreciated the uniqueness of Chicago, as well as a good dust-up involving local politics.

There are people who will tell you that the Bears are now a 'speed team', and therefore should take advantage by giving Soldier Field a faster track. Of course, that's a fallacy. No matter how fast or slow Chicago's receivers run on artificial turf, they and the opponents defense will match up exactly the same on grass. If Johnny Knox is one step faster than a cornerback on turf, he's that same one step faster on grass.

Maybe I'm old school, maybe I'm old, or maybe I just like something that's not just like everything else, but I love the fact that Soldier Field is occasionally a horrible playing surface. I like that you have to learn to adjust to it. In a sport that so often relies on copying the latest latest successful trend, it's fun to have something that belongs exclusively to your team.

Seattle makes a lot of noise about how much noise they make; they call the crowd volume the Seahawks '12th Man'. Well, the vagaries of the sod planted by the Chicago Park District is the Bears' 12th Man. something that every other team has to contend with when they come to our town to play.

As for Jay Cutler, he'll get used to it. When he's looking through the uprights at Soldier Field, he sees Downtown Chicago. When Tom Brady looks through the uprights at Gilette Stadium, he sees McDonald's Golden Arches, lit up so Pats fans can get Big Macs at the big game.

Jay doesn't know how good he's got it.