The Bears moving closer to an Arlington Heights address was the type of news bomb that made you call friends, post on social media and take a hardline stance of either for or against.
Brendan Sugrue and I fired up the old email conversation machine to talk about what's ahead for the Bears, Chicago and the suburb they're almost certain to move to at some point over the next decade.
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Kevin: Hey there, Brendan. So the Bears leadership interrupted our never-ending gripes about the team this week to drop the news they'd made a little purchase out in the burbs. The Athletic's Scott Powers was the first to break the news on Tuesday night. The team made it official on Wednesday morning.
I gotta say, it was a fun morning on Twitter. We were able to put away our worries for a few hours and talk about a fun Chicago parlor game finally made real. There were hopes, jokes and — ok — some griping from people who don't want the Bears moving out to Arlington Heights.
Personally, I lean toward the excited crowd. I didn't grow up going regularly to Bears games and the few times I went to old Soldier Field, I was stuck in the corner of an end zone that was closer to Gary than what was going on the field. The new Soldier Field always felt like a stopgap solution for a few decades before the team really got its act together. I'll miss the shots of the stadium against the lake and the odd time when I'm able to get to the Waldron Deck or South Lot to tailgate, but that's really it.
Where are you with the news?
Brendan: Hey, Kevin! Yes, it was a very nice surprise to see the news when I woke up on Wednesday morning. Of course the ONE time I go to bed early, I miss the breaking news. But you're right, after the firestorm that's engulfed the fanbase over the last few days, this was the perfect distraction. I'm onto you, Bears PR...
You can put me in the VERY excited group of fans. I go to about one Bears game a year and while it's fun for me no matter what time of the year, it's a chore. The parking is too limited, the public transit takes you a couple miles away from the gates, there's nothing to do just outside of the stadium, navigating the concourse inside is a maze, and it's small. The skyline and aerial shots on TV are always nice, but that's not what an NFL stadium should be based off of.
When it comes to the potential of Arlington Heights, I'm admittedly extremely biased. I live about 20 minutes up the road from the site in the northwest suburbs and it's a piece of cake for me to get to. I understand not all fans have that luxury though. Still, this presents an opportunity for a fresh start. We always lean on tradition but don't you think a team with just one Super Bowl victory and years of nonexistent offensive production could use something new? And don't get me started on the "turf monster" situation we always have to deal with. I'm over the sluggish field taking down players at the most inopportune time.
Speaking of turf, let's say this agreement goes through. What do you want to see at this new stadium?
Kevin: How much time do we have? How much ink is in my pen?
I know everyone will have their own wishlist of items and I hope the McCaskeys take as much fan input as possible. I also hope they visit as many NFL stadiums as possible to find out what has worked and what hasn't. Most Bears fans our age and older are probably stuck with this place for the rest of our lives so it's imperative they get it right.
The parcel of land is so big that I think it'll be an ongoing project. The development will never be truly "finished." But they need to stick the game experience right from the get-go. I went to a Braves game over the summer and the baseball game felt so incidental to trying to sell us $14 White Claws, personalized jerseys and whatever else they could stick into a cart between us and our seats. I'm used to the commercialization of stadiums now but, trust me, this was overkill.
As long as the stadium accentuates a homefield advantage for the beloved and finds ways to keep Bears fans loud and close to the game, I think I'll be just fine.
I'd also love to see a legit Bears Hall of Fame (not the half-assed job the Cubs just stuck under the stands at Wrigley) and some interactive things that kids can do in the offseason to indoctrinate my poor daughters who don't have a choice in the matter. A personal port-a-potty at every tailgating spot is probably too much to ask, but a man can dream.
What do you want to see?
Brendan: I love the idea of touring all the newer NFL stadiums to get a sense of what the Bears might want to use. Each place is so unique, from the natural light and windows of US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, to the ETFE roof on SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Aside from Soldier Field, I've only ever seen an NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and though it looks like a shed on the outside, it's perfect on the inside. Every venue has something to offer.
But let's start with the basics. This place needs a retractable roof. I know we all joke about "Bear Weather" and frankly, I don't mind the cold as much in the later months. Some of my favorite memories are seeing the 2000's Bears in frigid weather when they were vying for a playoff spot. But it's uncomfortable and just seems unnecessary at this point. Let everyone enjoy a football game outside in September and October, then inside where your beer doesn't freeze over by the end of the first quarter in November and December.
A Bears Hall of Fame is a must. It's criminal there isn't something already in place for fans to visit. I hate to say it, but Green Bay did theirs the right way up at Lambeau Field. It's a completely separate wing that's still attached to the stadium, filled with team history. Take notes, McCaskeys. A hotel, casino, and sportsbook would be great too and how 'bout some food and bar options? Wouldn't it be great to have places to easily go to before and immediately after the game aside from tailgating? No offense to the great places in the South Loop but it's not easy getting to and from those spots on gamedays.
I know you specifically have been covering this potential move for awhile. Hell, it feels like the first time we really got connected a few years back. Now with this news, what's your confidence level that this move actually goes through?
Kevin: Yeah, so I guess this isn't technically a done deal just yet. The purchase agreement basically gives the Bears the opportunity to study the project's feasibility as well as time for the sale to get approval from the local governments. It all seems like a formality, but the next bump-free project in this state will be the first.
But the Bears just promised $197.2 million of their Butkus bucks for the plot of land, which is something way more than just a vague promise. If this was 20 years ago, I'd say that maybe the city of Chicago would step in and try to do enough to keep the team, but that ship seems like it has long since sailed. There's no plot of land with a city zip code that can deliver as much as Arlington and the Bears aren't going to settle after seeing the paradigm-busting stadiums that were built in the last decade. (To quote my favorite movie: "How are you going to keep them down on the farm when they've seen Karl Hungus?")
My big question for you, though, is this: Does this move get the Bears any closer to breaking their Super Bowl drought? I know there's a space in the back of all our minds that the team will botch this as badly as the post Super Bowl XX era.
Brendan: As Bears fans, we're trained to think the worst. It's in our nature! But in some weird way, I do believe it gets them closer to another championship. I mentioned the turf earlier and former safety Cam Worrell put it perfectly: "Soldier Field is where speed goes to die." It doesn't seem possible to have a high-flying offense on the lakefront, especially as the temperature drops. But a climate-controlled environment with a hybrid turf? Now we're talking.
We love to reminisce about Soldier Field and all of the history that goes into it. But there's a reason our city is known for defense and running the ball. It's because the field is not conducive to offensive football. And don't get me started on the wind tunnel situation either. I can almost guarantee the double doink never happens if the game were played indoors.
This team is begging for a fresh start and aside from ownership changing, I can't think of a better opportunity to make that happen.
Kevin: Yeah, but all that is predicated on having the right football people in charge to make those decisions and build the right units. I'm scared the monumental task of actually pulling this stadium deal off basically freezes any on-field progress they would try to make. (Or at least any progress that is possible with a cap situation from hell and a barren draft pick cupboard.)
It's a move that needs to be done, though, and the sooner they pull it off the better. I know some people are hurt they're moving out of Chicago, but it seems like a move to the 'burbs is really the only way to bring the franchise all the way into the 21st century.
Now if they could just find a way to modernize that offense ...