Chicago's Sports Stadiums
Great Places to Watch the Home Team Play
Chicago is a great sports town. No question there. As for its venues: Wrigley Field (Cubs), nearly a century old, is a beloved classic. Among baseball stadiums, only Boston's Fenway Park compares in age and atmosphere. Soldier Field (Bears), whatever people think of it as architecture -- and they think a lot of things -- undeniably sits on land that's been hosting memorable sports events since Prohibition.
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) and the United Center (Bulls, Blackhawks) are . . . clean. Which is good.
All are more than just places where well-paid hometown athletes perform with occasional success. Here's a look beyond the video replays.
Best sense of history: Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. Built in 1914 for the Chicago Whales of the quickly defunct Federal League, the Cubs took over in 1916 and owner William Wrigley put his name on the place 10 years later. Owners changed, but the name has stuck.
Most frustrating history: Wrigley Field. Since it opened, its home team has never won a World Series. Last Series game played there was 1945: The Cubs lost 9-3 to the Detroit Tigers in Game 7.
Best retrofit: U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox. When it opened (as “new Comiskey Park”) in 1991, the seats were too blue and the upper deck was too high. Ten rows were lopped off the top of the upper deck, the seats were turned green, paint and portraits were judiciously applied, and now it looks like the Home of the White Sox. Good place to watch a ballgame.
Strangest retrofit: When it opened in 1924, Soldier Field -- home of the Bears since 1971 -- seated more than 100,000. Never fan friendly, it was reconfigured several times with mixed results, most of them bad. Finally, in 2003, the city plopped a brand new stadium within the ancient walls of the old. From the inside, it works fine; from the outside, it looks like a space ship landed at the Acropolis.
Best ritual: Blackhawk fans at the United Center roaring through Jim Cornelison’s singing of the National Anthem. He's been singing through that noise there since 2007. The custom began in 1985, when then-anthem-singer Wayne Messmer (now employed elsewhere) suddenly found himself being drowned out by fans at the old Chicago Stadium. No one is sure how or why it started, but he didn't take it personally. Neither does Cornelison.
Most missed: Chicago Stadium. It was intimate (despite holding even more than its announced capacity of 16,666) and incredibly loud. Ask Messmer or Michael Jordan. Demolished in 1995.
Most comfortable: United Center, home of the Bulls and Blackhawks. Cushy seats, wide aisles and concourses, state-of-the-art sound and visuals.
Least magical: Allstate Arena (1980), primarily home of DePaul and Sky (WNBA) basketball, Arena Football and minor league hockey. It's convenient to a concentration of hotels and convention facilities just outside the city limits, near O'Hare Airport. That sums up Allstate Arena.
Worst bathrooms: Wrigley Field. The newest owners, the Rickettses, tweaked the men's rooms, installing a few urinals a couple of years ago -- but the infamous long stainless-steel troughs continue to challenge the bashful among us.
Worst bathroom crush: Soldier Field at halftime. It's inevitable: At football games people tend to wait to go, and there’s just one intermission. We understand that. But yow.
Toughest tickets: Bears vs. Packers, Hawks vs. Red Wings, Cubs vs. Cardinals on a summer Saturday. Bulls? Depends who’s the current glamour team. White Sox? Postseason.
Best city view: Soldier Field, upper seats, south end zone. There’s a reason the networks put a camera there. Gorgeous. Close runner-up: Wrigley Field upper deck. Grass, vines, bleachers, scoreboard, ‘L’ trains, Lake Michigan. Gorgeous.
Best concessions: U.S. Cellular Field. They have everything a rational person could want at a sports event, including lots of beers, great sausages (try the Polish with grilled onions) and world-class churros.
Worst concessions: Soldier Field. Not bad, but basic. Competition from tailgating takes the bite out of concessionaires’ incentive.
Best single concession: United Center’s Madhouse Burger: a cheeseburger topped with a grilled Polish sausage, sautéed onions, cheddar cheese and stone ground mustard on a pretzel roll.
Best introductions: The Bulls, United Center. Spotlights, tingly music and thrilling animation on the video screen.
Best fans: Chicago's. Just listen to the roar .
Alan Solomon, who worked his way through college as a ballpark vendor and later covered the Cubs and White Sox for the Chicago Tribune, has seen hundreds of home games in Chicago, most of them losses.