Tomorrow evening our beloved Chicago Blackhawks will be making history by playing in the first ever NHL game held at Soldier Field (the first of what we hope will be many more to come). Such an historic event calls for a closer look into the history of one of Chi-Town’s oldest edifices: Soldier Field.
When you think of Soldier Field, you think of the Chicago Bears (and their most recent agonizing loss to the Green Bay Fudge Packers at Soldier Field), but the Da Bears are a relatively new tenant of Soldier Field, having only relocated from Wrigley Field to their current address on the lakeshore in 1971.
Construction for Soldier Field began in 1922 and it opened in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium (making it just a bit older than the Blackhawks franchise which was founded in 1926 – but you already knew that). Its name would later be changed to Soldier Field in 1925.
Soldier Field was initially built in a U configuration and with a seating capacity of just under 75,000, but additional seating could be brought along the interior field, upper promenades and on the large, open field and terrace beyond the north endzone to accommodate 100,00 spectators (as opposed to its 61,500 seating capacity today – third smallest in the NFL).
Soldier Field was not designed and built for a specific sports franchise, but rather was an all-purpose sporting and exhibition site, and throughout it’s nearly 100 year history, it’s hosted numerous events. Here are some of the most notable:
- From 1935 and until 1968, Soldier Field hosted midget auto races, demolition derbies and, for a number of years, weekly stock car racing.
- The all-time collegiate football attendance record of 123,000 plus was established November 26, 1927 at Soldier Field where Notre Dame beat the University of Southern California 7–6.
- In 1937, 1938, and again in 1954 Soldier Field held a ski jump competition, believe it or not. The Norges Ski Club hosted the event, and you have to see the pictures to believe it (http://fhsarchives.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/chicago-ski-jumping/).
- The 1st International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 19–20, 1968. Over 1,000 Olympians from 26 states attended.
- The Long Count Fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney took place at Soldier Field in 1927. Gene Tunney won the fight amid controversy after recovering from a purported 13 second count in the 7th round.
- In 1966 Martin Luther King held the Chicago Freedom Movement rally at Soldier Field, recording an attendance of 60,000
So the suffice it say, the Hawks and Pens will be entering hallowed ground on Saturday. Speaking of history, most of you more recently inducted Hawks fans probably wouldn’t know that the Blackhawks and Penguins have a bit of a storied history between them as well. During the 1991-1992 Stanley Cup Finals, under the leadership of their new head coach Scotty Bowman (who is now Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Blackhawks) the Penguins swept the Blackhawks to become consecutive Stanley Cup champions. Now ironically enough, the Hawks are meeting the Pens again en route to their own shot at a consecutive Stanley Cup.
However, let’s not allow all this history to distract us from the current gravity of Saturday’s match-up. The Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins are a well balanced team of very high caliber, ranking fourth in the NHL in both offense and defense. Even though the only place the Hawks would meet the Pens in the ever-drawing-closer post season would be the Stanley Cup Finals (knock on wood), this game is a very important measuring rod in many facets and a win would be a much needed chug of coconut water to jolt the Hawks from their Olympic hangover.
The weather forecast for tomorrow night is a balmy 25 degrees with a good chance of snow: perfect hockey weather. So grab your Blackhawks poof-ball hat and a cup of warm cocoa and get ready to cheer on our boys in red, white, and black thermals as they skate into another chapter of Soldier Field history!
FOR THE DAGGER!