Chicago's Wrigley Field is lined for Saturday's historic football game between Illinois and Northwestern - the first football played there since the Bears moved out in 1970 - and the pundits are having, well, a field day. "Saturday's clash ... should be entertaining for a variety of reasons, and the end zone of death is just one of them," Chicago Sun-Times blogger Kyle Koster wrote. And NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra just flat out states that "Wrigley Field looks like a pretty terrible place to play a football game."
The gridiron for the inaugural Allstate Wrigleyville Classic is laid out east to west with some tight squeezes, especially in the east end zone along the right-field bleachers, parts of which are just a foot away from a thickly padded brick wall. Another potential trouble spot, according to the Chicago Tribune, is located in the southwest corner of the field about six feet from another padded brick wall - "a landmarked feature," Cubs President Crane Kenney reminded reporter Teddy Greenstein. "So that's not coming down."
The cozy confines will no doubt affect both teams' play calling. "It definitely will be an element in the game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told the Tribune, which referred to Saturday's event as "the first Arena football game in Big Ten history." "We will plan accordingly."
Jim Phillips, athletic director for home team Northwestern, added that he's confident players' safety won't be endangered: "We had risk managers out here. We had civil engineers, safety engineers. We had so many people look at it, because nobody wants to put the student-athletes in harm's way. We vetted it through all the experts at both universities and felt like everybody was comfortable with the dimensions."
The field setup was more challenging than it was when Wrigley was converted into an NHL rink for the 2009 Winter Classic. "I think it was a little harder on the pre-setup with the sod and leveling the field," Roger Baird, Wrigley Field's head groundskeeper since 1995, told EPSN.com. "After the hockey game, we had a lot of work, which will be the same thing here. We'll have to put the mound back in, put the skin area back, the runner's lines, warning tracks, and re-leveling and some re-sodding."
A sellout crowd of approximately 40,000 fans is expected, and ESPN's College GameDay will broadcast live from the stadium on Saturday morning. ESPNU will air the game at 3:30 p.m. (EST).
For video footage of workers painting Wrigley's iconic red marquee Northwestern purple and other field preparations, click here.