A convergence of events – my annual Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field today, the upcoming Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field and a photograph in this week’s Sports Illustrated of the Bears-Packers game on November 17, 1963 – reminded me of a lesson learned just five days before the Kennedy assassination.
The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970, when the NFL dictated that teams play in larger stadiums. The end of the baseball season necessitated the Bears play their first three or four games on the road, which pushed a preponderance of home games into November and December. The field ran north-south, and the Bears erected temporary bleachers in right field, increasing capacity by 9,000 to 46,000.
Wrigley Field, November 17, 1963
My father’s company had two tickets for each game, and my brother and I received them for the big Green Bay Packers game, our first Bears game and second NFL game. Less than 16,000 fans showed up for the second-to-last Chicago Cardinals game at Comiskey Park, a 27-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, on November 23, 1958. Our parents drove us to the game and waited at our grandparents’ apartment, less than a mile away. We settled into our seats – chairs, really – in row 2 of Box 36, very low at the 5 yard line (roughly behind the Cubs on-deck circle, making us barely visible in the Sports Illustrated photo). Frank and I figured to buy hot dogs from a vendor.
Ticket stub, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
November 17, 1963
Now for the lesson. Until the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971, there were no permanent seats in what are today’s club boxes. The Cubs had their chairs, and the Bears had theirs. The difference? In order to get butts into more seats, the Bears chairs were narrower than the Cubs chairs, allowing George Halas to place an extra one into each box’s row. The fit was tight, especially during cold-weather games with bundled-up spectators. Upon the opening kickoff, the fans at the end of each row in unison moved their seats into the aisle, and the rest of us moved accordingly. It also eliminated the aisle and, thus, vendor access. Frank and I went without lunch that day, no easy feat for two hungry high-school freshmen. So much for the fire code.
Program Cover, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
November 17, 1963
The Bears trounced the Packers, 26-7, and went on to win the Western Conference championship with an 11-1-2 record. The Packers finished second, at 11-2-1, their only losses coming against the Bears. The season tickets, it turned out, were owned by somebody else; when the NFL championship game was played at Wrigley Field, the company did not get the tickets. Strange as it seems, prior to 1973 all NFL home games were blacked out in the local market, regardless of attendance and/or importance. We watched the Bears defeat the Giants, 14-10, on a fuzzy black-and-white picture picked up from South Bend by our roof television antenna.
Having learned our lesson, Frank and I had hot dogs at Ray’s Bleachers before the 1964 Bears-Packers game on December 5. It had snowed heavily during the week, and Papa Bear just plunked down the chairs on top of the snow. He was too cheap to hire a crew to shovel it out. This time, we were ready for the opening kickoff.