For the first time in 87 years, Illinois football will return to Wrigley Field. The Nov. 20 game against Northwestern is a rematch of a 29-0 victory by the Illini and star Red Grange there in 1923 after Northwestern moved a home game in an effort to make an instant classic and create a buzz around ticket sales.
For the first time in 87 years, Illinois football will return to Wrigley Field.
The Illini will play Northwestern in a Big Ten Conference game on Nov. 20, bringing football to the legendary baseball stadium located on Chicago's northside, Northwestern announced in a news conference at Wrigley Field on Friday morning. It's a rematch of a 29-0 victory by the Illini and star Red Grange there in 1923 after Northwestern moved a home game in an effort to make an instant classic and create a buzz around ticket sales.
"The question isn't why,'' said Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips. "It's why not bring football back to this historic stadium to showcase Northwestern.''
Now that the announcement has been made, the two teams can make preparations for a game that will gain national attention. Football hasn't been played within the ivy covered walls since the Chicago Bears left for Soldier Field following the 1970 season.
Illinois won't give up a home date for the conference game, and the program has no intention of making this an annual date. Nevertheless, the game will draw special interest on a day when Army plays Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium and Ohio State faces Iowa in a key Big Ten showdown.
"The mystique of Wrigley Field will make this an unforgettable experience for the teams and fans of both schools,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "We saw with the excitement generated by the NHL game that sports fans across the nation were drawn to the event."
A graduate of Illinois and former Illini basketball manager, Phillips worked with Illinois administration in lining up the game. The project began just after Phillips took over at Northwestern nearly two years ago.
The idea was solidified when Phillips attended the NHL Winter Classic game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 1, 2009. Phillips not only watched the game, he visited the Wrigleyville neighborhood and liked the atmosphere.
Phillips worked closely with Cubs president Crane Kenney, and Phillips took advantage of living a block away from Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts in Wilmette.
"Every time I'd see Tom, it was a friendly reminder that we have to get it done,'' Phillips said.
Field engineers independently determined the playing field was safe to house a football field, Phillips said. There were initial questions about safety concerning the dugouts, in addition to locker room space and the coaches box.
The novelty will drive ticket sales. In order to purchase tickets through Northwestern, fans must purchase season tickets to Northwestern's five home games at Ryan Field. Assuredly, the tickets will make their way to ticket brokers. According to Big Ten rules, Illinois will get an allotment of 3,000 tickets.
The game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.
When the two teams first met there in 1923, Wrigley Field was known as Cubs Park. The game was played before 32,000 fans. The Bears called the field home from 1921 to 1970.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.