They kept the colonnades... and the exterior facade... but everything else about Soldier
Field is different. This is one brand new stadium that provides all the new amenities typical
to the new NFL venues, and at the same time, serves as a bridge to the stadium's storied
past. Of course we had to make the trip, plant the USRT flag (again), and check things out...

Soldier Field is an old venue... in fact the oldest stadium in the National Football League,
having opened way back in 1924. And this place oozes history... hosting the
Dempsey-Tunney fight in 1927, a religious event in 1954  which drew a crowd of over
260,000, and also some very memorable college football games over the years (remember
the annual College All Star Game? It was played right here.). But as far as the Chicago Bears
are concerned, they have called Soldier Field home for only the past 30 or so years, having
played at Wrigley Field before then.

Hallowed grounds these are, but the stadium had clearly fallen to the rear of the pack in
terms of the modern amenities and revenue generators that make up an NFL stadium. So
what were they to do? Go elsewhere? Refurbish the place? The answer is they did a little of
both... for a season the Bears played in temporary quarters at the University of Illinois while
most of Soldier Field was gutted and demolished, and a new stadium rose in its place. What
you have here is the old meeting the new, and a stadium whose design and personality is
truly unique among its NFL peers.

Getting to the venue
We carped on this last time and things have not changed much... getting to Soldier Field
and parking your car is a real challenge. You can find Soldier Field just south of downtown
and in view of the skyline, with access off of I-94 east to I-55 and onto Lakeshore Blvd. The
stadium is situated on the waterfront, in the beautiful and historic Park District, and much of
the adjoining property is devoted to park land and other public spaces. That means not
exactly much space for parking lots and ramps. What parking does exist here is reserved
for "coupon" holders, meaning season ticket holders who prepay for parking.
For the single ticket buyer, there are cash lots available in the downtown area and the
other side of Lakeshore Drive, but directional signage to those lots are nowhere to be
found. If you do find these lots, parking is $10 and that includes a shuttle ride to the
stadium. Go  into the neighborhood west of Lakeshore and you will find some private lots,
but be prepared to shell out $30-$35 dollars. The other bit of bad news is that street parking
is banned on game days and "tow away" signs warn you that your car will disappear. There
is a Metra rail line with a station just steps from the stadium. Park and ride might indeed be
the best strategy of them all.

Outside the venue
The Park District really defines this venue. Here you have a stadium literally built in a park...
with trails, picnic areas, beaches along the lake, a waterfront marina and an adjacent
museum and aquarium. Just a very pretty setting, and with the new Soldier Field has come
an entire host of improvements, lighting, decorative pavement and landscaping to further
enhance the park and the district. Of course, that means no definitive tailgate scene, but
that doesn't stop the parties and the grills from being a happenin' thing here... the surface
lot directly south of the stadium seems to be tailgate central here ("coupon" required for
admittance).

At one point during construction of the stadium, the idea of a corporate name was
suggested. Of course, there was plenty of outrage at removing the "Soldier Field" moniker.
Gratefully that idea was shelved, and not only did the name remain, but a couple of striking
monuments were put in place to commemorate the men and women who served in the
military. On the north side is the signature monument saluting the soldiers and just beyond
that is a passageway to enter the stadium, and here is a marble display and fountain
saluting each branch of the Armed Forces. The old facade and simple signage of Soldier
Field was kept intact, with lots of flag poles and American flags, and the symbolism and
patriotism can be felt everywhere.

Architecture and the concourses
What draws your immediate attention at any photo of Soldier Field? The colonnades, of
course! These doric pillars are indeed the signature element of the old and the new Soldier
Field, and were kept intact for the stadium's reconstruction. Located on both sides of the
venue, these areas serve as sort of an outer concourse, and in addition to keeping the
exterior facade intact, they also kept the many narrow doorways in place to get inside the
building. From a distance Soldier Field looks like a giant spaceship landed right onto the
field. But the futuristic design of the new building and the classic Greco-Roman accents
seem to come together nicely.

The main entrance is through the south end zone, and once inside the doors, you enter a
massive public plaza with concessions, a stage for live entertainment, and large murals
heralding great moments in the building's history. This is all part of what is called "The
Grand Concourse" and veer off to the left and you will find Bears historical exhibits, giant
black and white photos of memorable moments in American military history and
corresponding memorable quotes from our leaders. This area is designed to give one time
to pause and reflect, yet enjoy the ambience of the primary reason for being here, and that
is to see a football game.

The other concourses throughout the building display a "Ring of Honor" - backlit blue and
orange panels with names and images of the many great players who have worn the Bears
uniform over the decades. One other area of note is the "Miller Lite Party Deck", an area
high above the north end zone concourse, separate ticket required so we could not get up
there.

The seating bowl
This is where the difference between old and new is at its greatest as it bears absolutely no
resemblence to the seating bowl as years gone by. Three levels of seating are on each
sideline and two levels overlook the endzone....all in the team color of dark blue.

There are two giant videoboards, one above each endzone and in a twist, one board is
slightly off the right of center. LED boards run along the second balcony on the sidelines.

As in Philips Arena in Atlanta, all club seating is located on one sideline and five levels of
suites stand above the seating bowl on the east sideline.

Concessions
Here was a BIG disappointment. Not much more than the standard ballpark fare to be found
here. Not even the famous deep dish pizza......hot dogs, beer, nachos.....blah blah blah.
Just basic
ballpark dreck. Considering the amount of space in the building, the team store
at the north end zone is really small in size and a disappointment in terms of variety of
merchandise.

Premium seating
Club seating runs across two decks on the stadium's east side, and in addition to an
enclosed concourse, the east colonnade area is reserved for suites and club seats. Suites
run as much as five levels high way above the seating bowl. Costs for club seats run
$195-$310 a piece.

Banners/retired numbers
Most of the historical artifacts and information about the Bears is found in the Grand
Concourse. Here where the 13 retired numbers can be found with a section all to
itself.....names like Nagurski and Luckman from the old days join in with Sayers and Butkus
from the 60's along with Walter Payton from the most recent glory days of the Bears.

Touchdowns, Extra Points, Fumbles...

Fumble.....35$ to park!!!!! Are you kidding! We don't need to say more about this do we!

Fumble...to the USRT karma as the Bears completed the clean sweep of Chicago teams for
us this weekend by stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. The Rams rallied from 11 points
down to win the game by a 23 - 21 count.  We take solace in the Bears covering the spread.

Fumble- According to the Soldier Field fan guide, the new facility has twice as many rest
rooms as the old place. Well you sure could have fooled us by the amount of time we had to
wait in line! One suggestion from us could be to bring back those port-a-johns which dotted
the old venue. (kidding!)

Extra Point - "Bear Down Chicago Bears" is the cool Chicago fight song played after each
touchdown. These old time NFL teams have the best fight songs, and this one does not
disappoint, but we still crown the Philadelphia Eagles the reigning champs in this
department.

Touchdown - we like audience interaction with the PA announder, and here in Chicago they
have their own unique shtick. During a break in the action, the announcer says "There's a
time out...". The fans respond, "Where!?". The announcer then replies "...on the field" to
which the fans reply in unison, "ohhhhhh..." Corny??? Nahhhh!!! Cool??? Hell yeah!

Extra Point -  Add Soldier Field to the list of places that we have witnessed  a football game
in miserably cold and rainy conditions......fortunately on this day we sat underneath the
overhang on a level called the "media deck", and all those schmucks who paid triple digits
to sit in the upper deck club seats had nothing to shield them from the elements.....heh heh
heh, SUCKERS!

Summary
When we step into a new stadium our expectations always run high... heck they spent over
$600MM to redo this place, but compared to the other NFL venues which have recently
opened their doors, this one sits at the bottom of the pack. First, the positives... a
stunningly beautiful lakefront Park District, and the stadium complements this area nicely.
Second, the modern futuristic design of the new stadium meshes very nicely with the old
colonnades. And the mementoes, flags and monuments which give Soldier Field its name
are presented very nicely. Offsetting all this is the lack of variety of concession items, the
horrendous washroom lines, the difficult parking situation. These are all things that
enhance the fan experience on game day, and quite honestly, there are better options at
other venues in the NFL. Soldier Field is nice, it's new, and the atmosphere is great... their
fans are loud and passionate about their team, even where onfield results have been
mediocre at best in recent years. What they need here is a total review of their point of sale
facilities... not a good sign for a stadium which just reopened their doors.


SCORING:        
Architecture: 9
Food and team store 3
Scoreboard and electronics 8
Ushers 4
Fan support 7.5
Location and neighborhood 5
Banners and history 8
In game entertainment 7
Concourses/fan comfort 8
Bonus: Tailgate scene 2, Bears fight song 1, Colonnades 1 Grand Concourse 2, Real time out of town
scoreboard 1, PA guy time out question 1
Total 67.5
Soldier Field
"New"
Soldier
Field   



Chicago,
Illinois   



November
16,
2003




St. Louis
Rams
at
Chicago
Bears