Bears100: From stadium proposals to family ties, Halas' team has deep roots in the suburbs
Viewing Soldier Field as an inadequate home for his Chicago Bears compared to several other NFL stadiums, team founder George S. Halas traveled to the Northwest suburbs in August 1975 with a grand vision -- a new, state-of-the-art stadium next door to Arlington Park.
"I hope and pray that 1977 will find the Bears contending for a title in a new stadium here in Arlington Heights," Halas told the crowd at a sports luncheon hosted by Arlington Heights' chamber of commerce.
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley wasn't impressed with Halas' initial demand that the city pay for a football stadium or his threat to move his team outside the city limits. He famously responded that the team would have to be called the Arlington Heights Bears, because a move to the suburbs meant it no longer could use "Chicago" in its name.
Halas' dream of an Arlington Heights stadium -- or a 1977 Super Bowl contender -- never came to fruition, but his team, its founding family and its players have deep suburban roots.
Another suburban chapter of Bears history will be written in Rosemont this weekend as the village plays host to the team's 100th anniversary bash that kicked off Friday night at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Bears100 Celebration Weekend is billed as the largest-ever gathering of current and former players and coaches.
Halas' daughter, team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, won't have far to go for the festivities. She remains in her family's longtime Des Plaines home.
And while the Bears still play their games in Chicago, Lake Forest has been the team's corporate headquarters and practice site since 1975.
Arlington Heights wasn't the only suburb the team considered making home over the years. Here's a look back at some of the times the Bears considered a move.
As the Bears looked to secure a deal with the village in 1975, the team was willing to sign a 35-year lease for a 76,000-seat stadium on the Arlington Park site. The team had an agreement with the racetrack's owner at the time, Madison Square Garden Corp., for the plan that also called for high-rise apartments and commercial buildings.
Some Arlington Heights residents were against the proposal when it was announced in April 1975. They questioned why the village was asked to seek a $30 million loan by issuing municipal bonds, with stadium revenue used to pay off the debt.
Halas said he did not want Arlington Heights residents hit with property tax increases to pay for stadium borrowing.
Just a month after Halas pitched his vision to the Arlington Heights chamber in August 1975, the proposal was declared dead when the bond market tumbled and interest rates for borrowing became unattractive.
Elk Grove Township
Long before construction started last year on a $1 billion technology park in Elk Grove Village near O'Hare International Airport, the former Busse family farm was a possibility for a new Bears stadium.
In 1998, SDI Consultants Ltd. was commissioned by the Bears to conduct a feasibility study of the Busse property to determine the viability of a 68,000-seat stadium with surface parking for 5,000 cars and an adjoining hotel/conference center. The Bears and Allen Busse signed a formal agreement to continue negotiations that year, but resident opposition developed.
Elk Grove Village would have annexed the property, which at the time was in Elk Grove Township. Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson remembers meeting with Bears officials to first discuss a site near Arlington Heights Road and I-90.
Johnson said they were in a hotel overlooking the tollway and Arlington Heights Road, but he also saw the Busse land. He quickly concluded the Busse property made more sense.
"I said, 'Guys, you realize 'Papa Bear' came within a hair of building a stadium at Busse farm?'" Johnson said. "They said, 'We didn't realize that.'"
Halas visited the Busse farm -- roughly bounded by Higgins Road, Lively Boulevard, Oakton Street and Stanley Street -- when he was looking for possible stadium locations in 1975.
Bears President and CEO Michael McCaskey ended the proposal for the privately financed $300 million project in 1999 and said the team would devote full attention to staying in Chicago.
"This was a very serious deal and very close to becoming reality," Johnson said.
DuPage County, Hoffman Estates and more
Before looking at Elk Grove Township, Michael McCaskey considered other suburban stadium possibilities in 1995.
Potential sites were in Hoffman Estates, Naperville, northeastern Aurora, Warrenville and a slice of Chicago west of O'Hare that extends into DuPage County near Bensenville.
In 1991, the Bears contacted government officials about possible stadium opportunities in Waukegan, Hoffman Estates, Arlington Heights, West Chicago, Warrenville and Bolingbrook.
Bears100 Celebration Weekend
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. to noon Sunday.
Today's highlights: Mike Ditka, Johnny Morris and Bob Wetoska remembering the 1963 NFL championship team; Richard Dent, Willie Gault, Otis Wilson and Emery Moorehead discussing the Super Bowl XX team.
Sunday's highlights: Team President/CEO Ted Phillips, General Manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy looking to the future; team matriarch Virginia McCaskey offering Bears memories; Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, Charles Leno Jr., Anthony Miller and Danny Trevathan sharing what it took to win the NFC North last season.
Tickets: Only $125 weekend passes were available at last check.
More information: chicagobears.com
Source: Chicago Bears