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The Wacky History Of Wrigley Field, College Football Stadium
We look back at Wrigley Field hosting college football games, which it's set to do again this weekend with Northwestern vs. Iowa.
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. . . There have been many instances of Major League stadiums hosting non-baseball sporting events throughout the years. Some, like when Shea Stadium housed the New York Jets from 1964-1983, doubled as football stadiums full-time. Others have been for one-off events, like when Fenway Park hosted the NHL Winter Classic earlier this year on Jan. 2. The Winter Classic has been held at baseball stadiums several other times, including at Minnesota’s Target Field in 2021 and 2022, Citi Field in 2018, and Fenway Park back in 2010. Wrigley Field hosted the second Winter Classic back in 2009 between the Detroit Red Wings and the local Chicago Blackhawks. Not to be outdone, Dodger Stadium hosted a ski jumping exhibition back in October 1963.
. . . As Major League Baseball expands worldwide, the trend of MLB games being played in non-MLB stadiums is on the rise. Last year, there was the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., the London Series in London Stadium and a series in Mexico City. MLB has also experimented with MLB games at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa, as well as series in Japan, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. In 2024, there will be MLB games in Seoul, Mexico City, and London, as well as a Spring Training series in the Dominican Republic.
Wrigley Field's Weird History Of Hosting Northwestern Football
By Paul M. Banks
Wrigley Field. The "Friendly Confines." The world's largest beer garden (to some, OK, to many). Yes, 1060 W. Addison, in the beautiful Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, is known first and foremost as the home of the Chicago Cubs, but it has hosted plenty of non-baseball sporting events too.
Northwestern Wildcats football returns to the grass field in between the bricks and ivy on Chicago's North Side this Saturday, and no matter what happens, it will be weird. At least if the last two times the Wildcats played there are any indication!
We'll look ahead to what zaniness might ensue this weekend, but before we project where we might be going, let's first look at where we've been.
Nov. 20, 2010: Illinois 48, Northwestern 27: The Only One Direction Bowl
ESPN College Gameday (Ernie Banks was a guest on this episode) took their show on the road for this one, one of the biggest novelty games in college football history. Due to the east end zone's boundary being mere inches from a solid brick wall, both teams had to drive the same way, towards the opposite end zone, the whole game.
This was just like when we played sandlot football as kids. Remember, when the team that scores tells the opponents: "Hey, losers walk."
The following rule changes were determined to be the best of all options and were in effect based on the unique layout of the field.
All offensive plays will head toward the West end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions.
All kickoffs will be kicked toward the East end zone.
After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the West end zone.
As a result of a coin toss held by the conference office Friday morning, Illinois will occupy the West team bench in the first half and Northwestern will occupy the West team bench in the second half and for all overtime periods.
The hero of this game was Illini running back Mikel Leshoure, who rushed for an Illinois single-game-record 330 yards on 33 carries. Illinois ran for a whopping 519 yards on 70 carries. It's fair to say they were "ground-focused" in their attack. Leshoure also set a single-game rushing record at Wrigley Field (this was the first football game of any sort at Wrigley since 1970, and the first college football game there since 1938).
Since we're talking 330 at Wrigley Field, we need to point out that only five Cubs hit north of .330 during their tenure in blue pinstripes: Bill Madlock (.336), Riggs Stephenson (.336), Cap Anson (.331), Ray Grimes (.331) and Bill Lange (.330).
At the time, Leshoure had the fifth-most rushing yards in Big Ten history, and the fourth-most in a Big Ten conference game. Leshoure went on to break many of the Illinois rushing records that had belonged to Rashard Mendenhall, an overt 9/11 conspiracy theorist who made a very high profile public apology just six months before this game.
Mendenhall posted tweets that came off as sympathetic to Osama Bin-Laden on the day that news of the former Al-Qaeda leader's death was announced. Like we said, there were a lot of weird things connected to this game.
Nov. 20, 2021: Purdue 32, Northwestern 14: The “We Finally Made It Safe” Bowl
This game was pretty vanilla compared to what happened 11 years earlier, but it was strange enough in its own way. Now rebranded from the Wrigleyville Classic to the Wildcats Classic, the second Northwestern game at Wrigley Field was originally set to be in 2020, with Wisconsin as the opponent, but the COVID-19 pandemic nixed that.
The 1060 Project, otherwise known as the first major Wrigley Field renovation in many decades, transpired between the 2010 game and this one. While the field dimensions were altered and much improved this time around, with extra padding added, it was still a bit tight. Once again, it was the east end zone that was the issue, especially with the north corner, and the areas closest to it.
The west end zone was a little tight on the northern edge as well. That's the issue with playing football games in baseball stadiums – it just doesn't quite fit right! Still, the ambience and charm of Wrigley Field is second to none. The old, hand-operated scoreboard once again displayed the out of town Big Ten scores, and that was a really nice added touch.
The game itself was kind of a dud, with Purdue's air attack taking over and routing the Cats. But this game did establish the fact that Northwestern can, and likely will, be playing their November home games at Wrigley while Ryan Field is torn down and then rebuilt. (Let's hope the Cubs are busy with it next October!) While this game did go off without incident, it wasn't enough to bring a college football bowl game to Wrigley Field.
The Cubs themselves did look into this idea, but it won't be coming to fruition any time soon. Bummer, because we were really looking forward to the Victory Auto Wreckers Bricks & Ivy Bowl presented by Malort. Which is no more ridiculous a name than the Pop Tarts Bowl, which is in fact an actual thing that exists.
Nov. 4, 2023: Iowa vs. Northwestern: a Baseball Style Score Seems Imminent
While the Cubs won't be hosting a bowl game this winter, the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks will. Bowl games in baseball stadiums are currently trendier than putting pumpkin spice in absolutely everything.
And what will happen this weekend? A baseball style score almost certainly, given how we're dealing with one absolutely putrid offense (Iowa), one very inconsistent offense (Northwestern), one elite defense (UI) and one decent defense (NU).
As of this writing, Northwestern versus Iowa is a matchup of the fifth and sixth lowest scoring offenses in the power five conferences of college football. This, if trends hold, should be among the lowest scoring college football games of the season. Can you say 6-3? 9-6?
For contrast, the Cubs scored 14 points (two touchdowns and two extra points) six times this past season. And when the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 20-9 on Aug. 1 and then 16-6 the next day, it marked their highest run totals in back-to-back games since 1897. There are plenty of off-the-field storylines in this one too. Iowa brings the poster child for nepotism in sports, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, to the Friendly Confines.
As for Northwestern, well, you might have heard or seen a news story or two about what went down at their program this past summer.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”