Soldier Field playing surface raises questions

By Brian Belford

NIU football may have a second opponent to face at the Soldier Field Showdown Saturday: the turf.

The field, which uses natural grass, has been criticized by professional players and coaches who say the field is ill-kept, so much so that the playing surface is almost too hard to play on.

This year, the grassy hazards were so bad the Bears canceled their annual preseason Family Fest because of unsafe field conditions, and the Buffalo Bills said they wouldn’t set foot on the field until it was deemed playable.

Bears Chairman Mike McCaskey said studies have shown natural grass to be a safer playing surface, despite players like middle linebacker Brian Urlacher saying he’d like the Bears to switch to field turf in order to use their speed.

Urlacher is not alone in his concerns about speed.

“Obviously we can’t afford to lose any speed,” said Huskies head coach Dave Doeren. “We want to be as fast as we can be.”

The Huskies plan to use special cleats to cope with the change in surfaces and get their kickers used to playing on natural grass.

“I know [Wisconsin will] probably do the same thing we do and get their kickers practicing on grass,” Doeren said. “We both play on the same surface, and we’re both Adidas teams, so we’ll have the same types of shoes. We’ll have a couple of different cleats we can wear and use for better traction.

Doeren said Chicago Bears officials have told him the field is in “good condition.”

Regardless of field condition, some Huskies are excited to play at the large venue.

“I feel a lot of extra excitement; it’s definitely a cool venue,” said NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish. “[Solider Field] is a place where you have a lot of NIU alums and Wisconsin fans as well. If we don’t let the distractions get to us, we should be fine,”

Other Huskies echoed Harnish’s sentiments.

“It’s just really exciting; it has a great history, and it’s a fun place to play,” said Huskies defensive tackle Ron Newcomb.