College football's diamond attraction
Welcome back to another edition of Going Bowling, where we always ask for extra Sugar in our coffee whenever dining at Outback or Beef O' Brady's.
Before we get started, we present this laurel and hardy handshake to TicketCity, now title sponsor of what used to be the Dallas Football Classic, and Belk's department stores, who will take over from Meineke as title sponsor of the New Years Eve game in Charlotte in 2011.
Now go buy some tickets and a nice new dress and read ahead.
Two of this weekend's most intriguing matchups aren't big because who is playing, but rather where they're being played.
Illinois and Northwestern will kick it off at 3:30 ET in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, while Army and Notre Dame have a 7 PM meeting at new Yankee Stadium, bringing one of the game's oldest rivalries back to its Bronx roots (for more on that, read Ivan Maisel's excellent story.
One might assume that the primary focus leading into both games would be a return to history and tradition, especially at Wrigley Field, which hasn't hosted a college football game since DePaul moved out in 1938 or a football game of any kind since Da Bears bailed in 1970. The last time Northwestern played at Wrigley was 1923, also against the Illini.
Instead the chatter has centered on the logistics of it cramming football fields into ballparks, particularly the ivy covered walls that line Waveland Avenue. Why? Have you seen the pictures?
We put a lot of people on this -- risk management folks and civil engineers and everyone else on the case before we signed the dotted line. We're comfortable with it. That said, I don't think we'll be running a lot of go routes.” -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
"We knew it would be tight," admits Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "But we didn't just find out about this. We put a lot of people on this -- risk management folks and civil engineers and everyone else on the case before we signed the dotted line. We're comfortable with it. That said, I don't think we'll be running a lot of go routes."
Illinois' Ron Zook was more pointed: "I told the guys this would get them ready to play arena football."
The folks at Wrigley have been criticized for the into-the-ivy layout, which surprisingly doesn't follow the footprint that the Bears used from 1921-70, running right field to left. Meanwhile, at Yankee Stadium the far end zone is also a bit snug, but the loudest complaints have been that the field, which runs directly down the middle of the stadium, is situated too far away from the fans. Here's a look. (Ed's Note: In response to these issues, the people putting on the game have decided to utilize only one endzone. More here.)
And, as I wrote about earlier this year, Yankees brass has been receiving an earful of doubt about this year's inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec.30, ESPN) from the always less-than-optimistic New York press corps.
Gary Cavalli feels the pain of the folks in New York in Chicago. As co-founder and executive director of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Jan.9, ESPN), he's already heard it all. Since 2002 Cavalli and his staff have shoehorned football games into notoriously cozy AT&T Park, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
"I think what we have learned and what (Chicago and New York) will learn is that this is constant work in progress," Cavalli says of constructing a gridiron atop a diamond. "Ballparks are built to be unique. So it's only natural that the challenges of staging a football game would be unique to each venue."
When Giants ownership approved the plans for AT&T (then Pac Bell) Park in the mid 1990's they certainly hadn't factored football into the plans. But as soon as the privately-funded stadium threw open its doors in 2000, its owners immediately began looking into non-baseball events to create additional revenue to pay off the gigantic waterfront mortgage.
Cavalli, already a consultant with the team, was tabbed to look into football opportunities. The East-West Shrine Game arrived in 2001, as did the XFL's San Francisco Demons. One year later the inaugural San Francisco Bowl hosted Virginia Tech and Air Force.
"It was definitely different," recalls Frank Beamer, who coached the Hokies to a 20-13 win. "The first thing that grabs you is that both teams are on the same sideline. And the locker room layout is definitely a baseball setup, but the Giants have it pretty nice so we had plenty of room. I wouldn't want to do it like that all the time, but for one game it was pretty neat. And I'm sure they've worked out the kinks since that first one."
They have and they continue to. As the Cubs and Yankees operations people will discover, some ideas have worked better than others.
For more on the diamonds, plus a look at N.C. State-UNC, you must be an ESPN Insider.