WEATHER AND SOLDIER FIELD GO TOGETHER

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Chile and Colombia met in a semifinal match of the Copa America Tournament last night. The Chileans scored two quick goals in the first 12 minutes and saw out the remainder of the match for a 2-0 win, aided when a Colombian player received a red card in the second half.
Colombia now plays the United States for third place, a rematch of a 1994 World Cup fixture.

That is enough for the tetherball discussion. Weather took center stage in Chicago during an extended two and a half hour halftime and took more shots on goal than the two teams combined.

Weather and Soldier Field continue to have quite a history.

  • A rare late-fall severe weather event delayed the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens in a regular season NFL game on Nov. 17, 2013.
  • No lightning involved, but a Halloween night game between the Bears and Green Bay Packers took place in a virtual car wash in 1994. The Bears were blown out by the opposition and the driving rain, and many fans departed even before a halftime ceremony to retire the numbers of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.
  • The Bears and Kansas City Chiefs closed the 1996 exhibition season in a nationally televised game and tried to play through the third quarter through frequent ground zero lightning strikes and an inundated field. With 4:20 remaining in the third quarter, referee Red Cashion turned on the field mic and announced that the weather would continue to be monitored. Before he was finished, the loudest boom yet sent both teams home for the night. Kansas City team president Carl Peterson pleaded ‘let’s not get anyone killed’ to league officials before common sense prevailed. That was the night the NFL realized discretion is the better part of valor with severe weather.

We now also approach the 40th anniversary of the infamous ‘Chicago All-Star Game’. For decades the defending NFL champion played a team of ‘college All-Stars’. By the mid-1970s the idea had run its course. NFL teams no longer wanted highly invested rookies with the ‘All-Star’ team and not their teams during  training camp. The 1974 game was scrapped during a league labor dispute and no one missed the game’s cancellation.

The final ‘All-Star’ game was played on July 27, 1976, the first of SEVEN exhibition games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by 14 regular season games. Crazier yet, the starters played into the second half and built a 24-0 lead. And everyone thinks starters play in the pre-season too much now.

Then the storm hit. The game was televised on ABC, usually with the normal Monday Night Football crew. But since the Summer Olympics was in progress, Howard Cosell was in Montreal coving boxing, leaving Frank Gifford to call the game alongside college football analysts Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma Sooners and later St. Louis Cardinals) and Lee Grosscup.

Second-string QB Terry Hanratty entered the game as rain, wind and lightning began. A commentator made reference to golfer Lee Trevino at the Western Open (another classic Chicago sports/weather event). The Steelers ran two running plays before a wobbly Hanratty pass was picked off by Schafer Suggs (nice career with New York Jets).

The All-Stars offense then took over with a 50 MPH wind in their faces, with the Steelers employed all 11 defenders at the line of scrimmage.

The field became unrecognizable as Archie Griffin was buried for a five yard loss and nearly drowned. “It looks like a snowstorm, Michigan against Ohio State”, a commentator said. On the final play, the All-Stars quarterback botched the snap and simply fell on the ball.

In this era, games continued through hell and high water. So Chicago fans came to the rescue. One spectator ran onto the field followed by others, demonstrating slip and slide routine as Wilkinson reminisced about his Southern Plains severe weather experiences.

Hundreds of fans soon took to the artificial turf as the playing surface resembled a water park wave pool. ABC caught closeups of companions in full embrace, WasserTanzen actually occurred on the 35-yard line. Players took matters into their own hands and headed for the locker room.

Within moments, one goal post was torn down – giving officials no choice but to call the game. Gifford hastily ran through some credits as the second goal post came down and said ‘Good Night…’

The night the Chicago All-Star Game died, but thankfully no one else.

 

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