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Poor turf conditions cancel Bears Family event, fans left seething

Arnie Cardenas with his sA.J. 15 next him is interviewed. The Chicago Bears Family Night practice Soldier Field was cancelled

Arnie Cardenas with his son A.J., 15 next to him, is interviewed. The Chicago Bears Family Night practice at Soldier Field was cancelled due to poor turf conditions on Friday, August 5, 2011 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 6, 2011 12:35AM



If the Soldier Field turf is just like any other outdoor sports facility’s in the northern United States, why does Soldier Field general manager Tim LeFevour know this drill so well?

‘‘It’s Tim LeFevour,’’ he said unprompted as he approached the media and TV cameras at the 20-yard line at a near-empty Soldier Field on Friday night. ‘‘L-E-capital-F, E-V-as-in-Victor, O-U-R, general manager of Soldier Field.’’

No need for that. LeFevour might be more recognizable than Stan Bowman among general managers in town. The issue again was the Soldier Field turf, which was ruled unfit for the Bears to practice on Friday night, forcing the cancellation of the Bears’ Family Fest — disappointing an expected crowd of around 10,000 fans.

LeFevour said the field conditions were not a result of the U2 concert July 5 or the Manchester United-Fire soccer game July 23. And he promised that the field would be ready for the Bears’ preseason opener against the Bills next Saturday.

‘‘It was a miscalculation on our grounds crew’s part,’’ he said. ‘‘We did not put enough water on the field. I’m not going to try and sugar-coat that in any way. And because of that, the seams [from the resodding after the U2 concert] opened up today.

‘‘We know what the problem is. We’re going to correct it before next week, and it’s going to be ready to go.’’

Adding to the disappointment of the evening was the timing of the cancellation. Fans, many of whom endured rush-hour traffic and Grant Park congestion from Lollapalooza, were waiting outside Soldier Field at 5:45 p.m. — 15 minutes past the scheduled 5:30 opening — when it was announced that the event was cancelled. Many of them found out from safety Chris Harris’ Twitter feed.

‘‘We’ve been here since 2:30, 2:45 — we were the first ones in line,’’ said Harry Tinsley, 42, of Montgomery, who brought his 17-year-old stepson, Martin Trejo Jr., to the event. ‘‘It’s a big disappointment to me. I’m a big Bears fan. I wanted to get some autographs and watch them practice. It’s a big letdown.’’

‘‘It stinks,’’ said his friend, Arnie Cardenas, 41, of Schaumburg, who brought his 15-year-old son, A.J., to Soldier Field. ‘‘You take the time off from work, spend the money to come down here. And you’re standing in that line down there in the heat. And then it’s all for nothing. You’re stuck.’’

Gil Diaz, 28, of Round Lake Beach, brought his wife, Cherie, and three children, ages 8, 6 and 10 months, to Soldier Field for the event. The commute was 2½ hours.

‘‘We look forward to this. My wife and I try to go to a game during the season. But this is when we bring out the kids,’’ Diaz said. ‘‘They’re looking around like, ‘Where’s the players? Where’s the players?’ I said, ‘Sorry, buddy, there’s no players today.’’’

The Bears did their best to make it up to the disappointed fans. They opened the gates and offered them free food and drinks. The fireworks show went on as scheduled. And they not only promised to refund the $8 ticket price, but fans who parked in the Soldier Field lots also had their $16 fee refunded.

‘‘We’re terribly sorry,’’ Bears spokesman Scott Hagel said. ‘‘Obviously, this was an unforeseen circumstance. Any further information will be listed on our website, chicagobears.com.’’

The players immediately returned to training camp in Bourbonnais for a private practice, which irked some fans.

‘‘I thought the least they could do is get a few of the players out there even if they didn’t practice — introduce them, bring them out to the field to say hi,’’ Diaz said. ‘‘That would have made our day. That would have been enough for us to go home satisfied. But, hey, players’ safety, I guess, comes first.’’

‘‘How many fans are they disappointing right now?’’ Tinsley asked. ‘‘To just get on the bus and take off without even staying here to sign autographs. That’s a big thing. They could have stayed here and signed autographs. I would have been happy.’’

That’s nothing that 10 or so victories and a playoff berth can’t cure. But the Soldier Field turf issue probably isn’t going away. The McCaskey family is as set against FieldTurf-type surfaces as Bill Wirtz was against televising Blackhawks home games.

‘‘Right now the Bears have determined they want to continue to play on the grass,’’ LeFevour said, ‘‘and if that’s the surface they want to play in, we’re going to continue to commit ourselves to them, to give them the best playing surface.’’



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