Amid the sizzle of brats and burgers on Weber grills and plumes of cigar smoke, something else was burning outside historic Soldier Field on Sunday, days after fans awoke to the news of a possible move away from the 97-year-old stadium.
On the upper Waldron parking deck just south of the stadium, the Bears’ possible move to Arlington Heights was unsurprisingly a hot topic among the hundreds of fan cookouts and makeshift watering holes.
“We were just talking about it,” said Rockford resident Patti Tumilowicz, as she and her husband, Kris, and their two friends began their tailgate pack-up.
A number of fans, particularly suburban ticket holders and those wanting the Bears the build a new modern stadium, relished the idea of a newly constructed building closer to them and free of the routine game-day traffic nightmare into the city.
“I’m not far from where the new stadium would be,” said Jim Wienold, president and co-owner of BEAR Construction, as he tailgated with several employees.
A new suburban Bears stadium would not only be more convenient for Wielnold, a Palatine resident whose company holds 34 seats, he expects that it would be far less of a traveling and parking hassle. It could also bring back business to surrounding communities, he added.
“I’m all in favor it. It’s just so difficult to get down here for events and everything and then difficult to get out in the end,” Wienold said. “I feel it would be a great thing if they moved.”
Not far away, Kris and Patti Tumilowicz were similarly rooting for a new suburban home for the Bears, as a way to avoid game-day travel hell.
“I think just getting here is a pain,” Patti Tumilowicz said. “It takes us three hours from Rockford sometimes with traffic. It kind of takes the fun out of it.”
The couple stayed at a downtown hotel overnight to avoid the horrific commute down DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
“We’re Blackhawks and Bears season ticket holders. It’s difficult to drive back and forth,” said Kris Tumilowicz, a dentist who grew up in Chicago.
Not so fast, say South Side natives and relatives Marlowe Parker and Kristiana Hamilton, who were firmly in the camp that believes to team should stay put. The Bears aren’t the Bears without Chicago, they said. The two excitedly cross-talked about what the move could mean to team tradition and culture.
“In the end of the day, (the new proposed site) is not Chicago,” Parker said, cigar in hand. “Arlington Heights is Arlington Heights. Are we going to be called them the Arlington Heights Bears?” she asked incredulously. “No! You’re going to be called the Chicago Bears, you should stay here.”
“I feel the same,” said Hamilton. “It’s not be the same vibe. It’s not the same skyline. It’s not the same. It’s not the same field. You won’t even get the same crowd. It’s different.”
Though the move isn’t a done deal, South Side native Phil Dunn and his two tailgate companions were already weighing the pros and cons of moving and the nostalgic hole that it would leave at Soldier Field.
“It’s going to be good and bad at the same time,” Dunn said under an overcast sky. “The good, it’s a new opportunity and life is all about change. The bad, the memories. We’re all going to miss Lake Shore Drive. We’re going to miss the Bears. But if they leave — that’s an if — whatever’s toward the future, I’m going to support them, regardless,” Dunn said. “Arlington Heights, if they move, here I come.”
“Sentimentally, it hurts to see them leave, so much history right here,” said Seneca Burt, a marketing executive who wore a Walter Payton to his first Bears tailgate. “I also understand the move. Trying to bring on change, you want bigger and better. You can’t do much with the stadium, you’ve already put a spaceship on top of it.”
Dunn reminisced about the loss of other Chicago institutions and the void that it leaves behind. “It’s gonna be tough. I’m still a Comiskey Park guy,” he said. “I’m not even sure of the name of it right now, but it’s Comiskey Park to me. Sears Tower. I’m one of those guys,” Dunn laughed.
Coincidentally, Kris Tumilowicz noted those fans disheartened by the demolition of Comiskey, but said the progress made for fans and the revitalization it gave the community was worth it.
“We love Wrigley and a lot of people were upset about Comiskey Park, but it’s time to let it go. Look how nice that stadium is now,” he said.
“Look at teams like the Colorado Rockies or the Arizona Cardinals,” his wife added. “We at least say ‘Chicago.’ Maybe they’ll change it to the Illinois Bears. It’s not really different, if you think about it.”