Grayhack: Northwestern looks to captivate Chicago with game at Wrigley

Pat Grayhack

After the announcement last week that Northwestern will play Illinois at Wrigley field on Nov. 20, I, along with the vast majority of NU fans, was excited. As someone who has grown up both a Cubs and Wildcats fan, it was a dream come true. I would get to see NU play at my favorite stadium in the world and hopefully connect with the huge Chicago sports market for the first time since the 1995 Rose Bowl.

But some detracting factors about the game entered my mind over the weekend. These included the loss of a home game and the fact that Wrigley was not designed to hold a football field. Though NU controls 32,000 of the 40,000 tickets-and it is only selling tickets to season ticketholders-the majority of the people at this game will be Illini fans who have already started buying tickets to this game (If you don’t believe me, check StubHub!, where some ingenious Illinois fan is trying to flip his season tickets for more than three times what the athletic department sells them for, while other season tickets are still available). Yes, NU will sell more season tickets, but there’s no guarantee attendance will rise with these ticket sales, which Athletic Director Jim Phillips has stated is a reason for playing at Wrigley. My other concern is Wrigley Field-though the most beautiful baseball cathedral ever constructed-is not a football field, and the majority of the people watching the game will have a poor viewpoint.

Despite these concerns, Phillips deserves a tremendous round of applause for getting this done. NU should make more money off this game than if it had been played at Ryan Field. The game also gives coach Pat Fitzgerald another tool in his recruiting tool belt. What other Big Ten coach can tell a kid, “We played a game in Wrigley Field and it could again?”

Finally, the most important reason this game will be a tremendous boon for the Cats is it will connect NU with one of the best sports towns in the country. This game, like the Winter Classic played at Wrigley last year, could generate interest and perhaps a fan base in Chicago (like it did for the Blackhawks). The timing could not be more perfect for a football team on the rise to enter what has long been a Bears’ town.

If Chicagoans take an interest in the Cats, long gone will be the days of empty seats at Ryan Field or playing road games at home.

That is why this game is so important to NU’s football program. It gives the Cats an opportunity to establish a real fan base, which is another step NU needs to climb the mountain.

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