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College football heads to baseball icons of old and new

The last time Wrigley Field hosted a football game was in 1970 when the Chicago Bears played a December game in the Friendly Confines best known for day baseball games and ivy-covered brick walls in the outfield. This weekend football returns to Wrigley Field, as Northwestern will host Illinois in one of the more unusual atmospheres for a college football game. It will be the first college football game played at Wrigley Field since DePaul played a home game there in 1938 and it is creating a nice buzz in and around the Windy City.

“The vision two years ago was to create a bowl game during the season,” said Jim Phillips, Northwestern’s athletic director. “Our student-athletes, fans – whether they’re Northwestern fans or Illinois fans, alums or (from) the great city of Chicago – they’re going to experience one of the terrific events in the sporting world in a bowl game-like atmosphere.”

Football ticket sales for Northwestern were up 40% this season thanks to anticipation for the Wrigleyville Classic. All 39,800 tickets available for the game this weekend are sold out.

The transformation of Wrigley Field has been a strange one. Not only has the familiar red marquee board outside the stadium been painted Northwestern purple (the game is considered a Northwestern home game) but the old-fashioned scoreboard will be updated with Big Ten scores from around the conference on the right side, which is used for American League scores in the baseball season. The challenge to place a football field in Wrigley Field though has been the more intriguing process.

In order to convert the iconic baseball landmark to a football-playing surface one of the goal posts had to be attached to the right-field wall. That should give you an idea of just how tight the end zone will be. With little room separating the back of the end zone from the brick outfield wall. The opposite end zone is nestled just feet from the traditional home dugout of the Chicago Cubs. The configuration of the field will alter the style of game play for both Northwestern and Illinois and the coaches are preparing their players for that.

“It will definitely be a factor,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a radio interview. “I don’t think we’re going to be trying to run a lot of go routes. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

“I just told the players to get ready for the Arena League,” Illinois coach Ron Zook says. “If they don’t make it in the NFL — get ready for the Arena League.”

While one of baseball’s oldest stadiums will welcome college football to its hallowed grounds on Saturday, so will one of the newer icons. Yankee Stadium in New York will welcome Notre Dame and Army in a game that will restore some history in that particular series. It will be the first college football played in the Bronx since 1969. Notre Dame and Army have played in Yankee Stadium multiple times since the first game between the two in the former baseball icon in 1925. The two schools previously played games in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds before shifting to Yankee Stadium. The series in the former Yankee Stadium provided college football with some great memories, including the “Game of the Century” between #1 Army and #2 Notre Dame that ended in a scoreless tie and featured for Heisman Trophy winners. The famous “Win one for the Gipper” speech by Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne was given at Yankee Stadium.

Football field set up in Yankee Stadium (2010)

Though it is not taking place in a baseball stadium, the Indiana Hoosiers are moving their game against Penn State from Bloomington to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins this weekend as well. Indiana figures to make more money playing the home game in Landover, Maryland even if it means playing the home game closer to Penn State than Indiana’s own campus.

Wherever the game may be played this weekend, it should make for a fun atmosphere for college football.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.