It's a question the Saturday Night Live Superfans might have
dreamed up: Could da Bears win da Super Bowl if dey had to play
all deir games on da road? That's the reality that Chicago's NFL
franchise faces as it hosts the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday's
season opener. With Soldier Field undergoing a $600 million
face-lift, the Bears will play all their "home" games some 150
miles south, at the University of Illinois in Champaign, this
year. It's hardly ideal for a team with title hopes--Chicago went
13-3 last season--but the players insist they'll grin and bear it.
"We have to mentally prepare for 16 away games," tackle James
(Big Cat) Williams says. "No excuses."
Normally the Bears would spend the night before home games at the
Chicago Hilton & Towers, which boasts room service, spacious
suites and breathtaking lakefront vistas. Not so in Champaign, a
place more akin to Green Acres than the Magnificent Mile. The
Bears, who'll jet down the day before a game and fly back to
Chicago immediately afterward, had planned to stay in Decatur,
Ill., some 40 miles from Champaign. The plan was scuttled after
the first preseason game, when the team bus got stuck in traffic
going to the stadium. "It took us over an hour," cornerback R.W.
McQuarters said. "Guys were sleeping on the bus." Perhaps still
in hibernation, the Bears lost 27-3 to the Broncos.
Brad Cook, co-owner of the Park Inn in Urbana, says the Bears
reneged on a handshake deal to stay at his hotel--after he had
spent $200,000 on improvements. "They said our towels weren't big
enough, that we had styrofoam cups instead of ceramic mugs," he
says. "They said they were used to nicer stuff." The Bears'
ultimate choice, the Chancellor Hotel, has six-foot-long beds and
views of cornfields. There's no room service, but players can
walk next door to Aunt Sonya's Restaurant, whose walls are
bedecked with NFL pennants.
Though few players have complained publicly, there have been
grumbles about everything from Memorial Stadium's slippery
artificial turf to the nearly six-hour round-trip car ride that
family members must endure. Bears receiver David Terrell, who
knows Champaign from his college days at Illinois's Big Ten-rival
Michigan, even raised a stink about the smell from nearby cow
As a gesture to season-ticket holders--some of whom are getting
soaked for as much as $10,000 per ticket for seat licenses at the
new Soldier Field--the Bears didn't require them to buy tickets
for the 2002 season. Nobody's sure just how many Chicago-area
fans will make the trip each week, but the idea of a three-hour
ride through speed traps is a prospect few relish. "Twenty
thousand cars on I-57? That can't be good," says Andy Carter, 36,
a lifelong Bears fan who plans to attend only two Champaign
games. "It's going to be a big hassle."
Tell that to Vicki Batka. The 30-year-old reception manager went
to Champaign with friends for both preseason games. Before the
first game, three of her pals were issued $75 citations for
drinking beer at a local campsite. During the second game her car
got towed. "Other than that," Batka says with a laugh, "we had a
The four new NFL stadiums that open this season are loaded with
cool amenities and design features. Here are the best of the
Seattle Stadium (Seahawks)
Public work by 12 artists, including six six-foot-high Colossal
Heads (left) by Claudia Fitch and large-scale paintings by
Romson Bustillo celebrating his native Filipino culture.
Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots)
Glacial boulders, reminiscent of New England coastline, dot
site; 12-story lighthouse with four 2,000-watt xenon bulbs rises
above the north end of the field.
Ford Field (Detroit Lions)
Venue blends into streetscape by incorporating historic
seven-story Hudson's warehouse, which makes up the stadium's
south side and houses luxury suites, press box and locker rooms.
Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans)
Four-cell minijail to handle unruly fans; removable end zone
seats to accommodate animal pens for other main tenant, Houston
Livestock Show and Rodeo.