Note: This piece originally ran in the Midway Minute newsletter in June 2020. To sign up for the newlsetter for free, click here.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Chicago Bears will eventually move to Arlington Heights.
That was a rumor tweeted by ESPN1000 radio host Brian Hanley on Tuesday and it’s far from a solo whisper. With the long-term fate of Arlington Park Racetrack up in the air after owner Churchill Downs passed on a casino, the thought of the site one day luring a high-tech Bears stadium has been mentioned more than a few times.
It won’t happen anytime soon, of course. The Bears’ lease with the Park District for Soldier Field goes until 2033 and we all remember how long it took the team to force that renovation. (Seems crazy to think it’s been finished for 17 years now.)
But the problems that existed when engineers shoehorned that spaceship in between the columns still remain. The Bears still boast the lowest capacity in the league. There aren’t a lot of parking places. The turf sucks just as much as the traffic.
If and when the McCaskeys eventually sell, you think the owner who shelled out billions is going to stay in a facility he or she doesn’t own?
No freakin’ way.
That’s where Arlington Heights comes in.
Longtime Bears fans know the northwest suburb has always been a tempting mistress. George Halas first flirted with a site next to Arlington Racetrack back in 1975, when an 80,000-seat stadium similar to the Bills’ then-new digs was proposed. The deal quickly fell apart after bond and interest issues arose, but not before getting Richard J. Daley into a lather over the thought of losing the Bears to the suburbs.
Sidenote: Check out older Daley’s comment about the Olympics in this article.
There was more flirting.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the late Michael McCaskey explored more than a few suburban alternatives and Arlington Heights remained a favorite escape hatch.
The McCaskeys wanted luxury suites and parking revenue they didn’t have. Arlington owner Dick Duchossois was predicting imminent doom for his business because of increased competition from new riverboats.
A deal never got done, but both sides were fortunately able to scrape by over the next 30 or so years. Don’t cry for either side. Dick Duchossois will turn 99 in October and is doing OK after selling to Churchill Downs and remaining the company’s biggest individual shareholder. The McCaskeys, led by a 97-year-old matriarch, are sitting on a team Forbes just valued at $3.5 billion and would probably sell for more than that.
Meanwhile, both sides are somehow right back where it all started.
An eventual move would mean the rich getting richer.
But how would you feel about the Arlington Heights Bears?
The Bears fan in me who watches the games on TV or gets an occasional tailgating invite would hate it. Soldier Field in itself might be crummy, but I love those aerial shots of the stadium along the lakefront as the Fox cameras come back from break. There’s also nothing like draining a few beers under the skyline before the game or passing the Field Museum on foot just before kickoff.
You can keep the rest of it, though and I’m not sure if I need the Bears to actually play in Chicago. The Cowboys and Patriots don’t and I’d swap their combined 11 Super Bowls for the Bears’ one any day.
A stadium in Arlington Heights (or anywhere else, for that matter) would presumably fix everything else that makes heading to a game a major pain. Adding more than 20,000 fans to the team’s homefield advantage wouldn’t hurt either. (On second thought, dealing with 20,000 additional people who act like they’ve never consumed a beer before doesn’t seem that great.)
At any rate, the team’s long lease combined with the McCaskeys’ long history of screwing up their stadium situation means this is a parlor game we’ll be playing for a long while. The billions of dollars at stake and the custody rights between city and ‘burbs would only add to the timeline of a potential move.
Throw in the fight the “robust and sturdy people of the Midwest” would have over whether to dome or not dome and we’re looking at a rough delivery date of September 2123.
Still, it’s a weird situation to think about.
A familiar one, too.
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