Wrigley transformed for Northwestern-Illinois

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Wrigley transformed for Northwestern-Illinois

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Watching Northwestern and Illinois play football at Wrigley Field should be disorienting and entertaining, like seeing Ryne Sandberg in a Lehigh Valley IronPigs uniform.

On the same day the Philadelphia Phillies announced Sandberg will manage their Triple-A affiliate, the Cubs painted their iconic marquee purple. Everyone is curious to see how this will turn out.

The vision for Jim Phillips began with the Blackhawks skating at Wrigley Field on New Years Day 2009. The Northwestern athletic director wanted to create a bowl game during the middle of the season. It is coming into focus.

ESPNs College GameDay will set up outside the stadium. Illinois alumni are said to have rented out most of the rooftop buildings. Northwestern players dressed in coats and ties will ride the El from Evanston to the Addison stop.

Saturday marks the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938, and its first football event in almost 40 years. Mondays media tour revealed a bricks-and-ivy space that was at once familiar and different.

The field runs east-to-west instead of the north-south alignment used when the Bears played at Clark and Addison. One end zone is in front of the Cubs dugout, while the other goes to the right-field wall. There is no net beyond the uprights, so field goals and extra points could fly into the bleachers or onto Sheffield Avenue.

That end line runs right up against the Under Armour sign in right field. At the back of the end zone, near the batting cage area, players can only take a step or two before momentum will have them crashing into the wall.

The Cubs, Northwestern and Illinois assembled a team of engineers and risk managers that concluded this is the safest way the field plays. One Cubs official mentioned how 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound outfielder Sam Fuld dives at the wall without pads (or a middle linebacker driving him into the bricks).

Hopefully its just not like Arena (football) where youre running into and over the billboard signs, Northwestern wide receiver Demetrius Fields said.

This is about marketing, at a time when the Cubs are trying to convince the state to float up to 300 million in bonds to help finance renovations at Wrigley Field.

Chairman Tom Ricketts told the Chicago Tribunes editorial board on Monday that he doesnt have a Plan B if the proposal is rejected. On Tuesday Ricketts and a group of union leaders and business owners and residents from the Lakeview neighborhood are expected to hold a news conference at Wrigley Field to shape their economic message.

The Cubs are trying to grow revenue. Northwestern is hoping for more exposure. In a sense they need each other. Cubs president Crane Kenney along with Phillips will wait before committing to stage future games.

For us, this is a way to stretch our creative skin a little bit. And after hockey and concerts, well see where football fits, Kenney said. There are other events that were held here in the past soccer for sure, the circus, rodeo and everything else.

We want to see this one go well and if we still feel the same way Saturday as we do today, well look at other events.

Logistically, Northwestern will use the Cubs clubhouse, which struggles to accommodate 25 baseball players, much less some 85 scholarship athletes. The two teams will share the same sideline and be separated by some sort of barricade.

Tickets have been divided three ways. Northwestern received around 30,000, with the Cubs and Illinois almost equally splitting the remaining 10,000. One side of the scoreboard will show updates for Saturdays other Big Ten games.

The Cubs brand did a lot for Sandberg, just not as much as the Hall of Famer hoped. Now Northwestern wants its share. School flags are flying all around the stadium. Eight Northwestern panels flank the sides of the marquee.

Phillips who grew up on the citys Northwest Side and graduated from Illinois hustles to make the Wildcats what they bill themselves in front of the building: Chicagos Big Ten Team.

Our fans have been abuzz since we made the announcement back in the spring, Phillips said. Tickets (were) gobbled up pretty quickly and Ive found a few distant relatives that I hadnt heard from and some long-lost cousins and friends from high school I havent talked to in awhile. But I think thats been the case for everybody.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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