Jim O'Donnell: Bears could be feeling earth move all the way to host and play in Super Bowl 67

  • When the Bears submitted a bid to buy Arlington Park, it signaled a potential willingness to move out of downtown and Soldier Field.

    When the Bears submitted a bid to buy Arlington Park, it signaled a potential willingness to move out of downtown and Soldier Field. Associated Press

 
Updated 6/19/2021 5:28 PM

WHEN CAROLE KING WROTE "I Feel the Earth Move" all those platinum sales ago, did she realize she was laying down a new rallying cry for future generations of Chicago Bears fans?

Answer: Of course not.

 

Reality: As of Thursday, when Bears CEO Ted Phillips announced that his organization had put in a bid for the 326 acres of choice real estate where Churchill Downs Inc. still does business as "Arlington Park," a whole lot of people began to feel the earth move.

Even the Bears fanboy media was shaken out of its Justin Fields-Andy Dalton catatonia long enough to juggle a business/real estate/horse racing/gaming/NFL story.

Hard facts in the unfolding matter are few. They include:

• CDI has put the Arlington Park land up for sale. Its deadline for the submission of bids was an arbitrary June 15;

• CDI, per CEO Bill Carstanjen, has stated the acreage has "a higher and better purpose" other than thoroughbred horse racing;

• Only two bidders -- the Bears and a curious bunch d/b/a "Endeavor Properties LLC" -- have been confirmed as potential purchasers;

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• Bears minority partner Pat Ryan holds a right of first refusal to purchase majority ownership of the franchise should it become available; and,

• The Bears have a lease with the Chicago Park District to play their home games at Soldier Field through the 2033 season. As contractually stipulated, an "Improper Relocation" would cost the team an estimated median of $8 million per remaining season (in part predicated on the Consumer Price Index) through the concluding year of the pact.

(In other words, pigeon feed by current NFL money metrics.)

So, facts in tow, now some informed speculation and other Bear-a-brac:

CDI needs to cash out of Arlington "clean."

Leaving the village of Arlington Heights and Bears fans everywhere with the probable deliverance of a global-class sports/entertainment facility and lush adjacent residential development on the AP land would be yet another adroit move by Carstanjen and CDI.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There is already an issue of "trustworthiness" between the more clearheaded citizens of Illinois and the Kentucky-based corporation. That directly stems from CDI's somewhat stunning decision to not add a full casino at AP two years ago after close to 20 years of lobbying for such enabling legislation.

The declination sounded a swift and stunning death rattle for future thoroughbred racing at Arlington Park. That sayonara may be completed in September.

But that question of CDI's "trustworthiness" in Illinois could bleed over not only to its future gaming licensing in the Land o' Winkin', but also into other jurisdictions.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has to say something sometime about the future of the AP land.

Doesn't he?

This is a 56-year-old fellow from a staggeringly wealthy family who spent close to $200 million of his estimated personal fortune of $2.4 billion to get elected governor three years ago.

A law firm run by his forebears two generations ago specialized in only three types of law: business, real estate and criminal.

Some would say the family built its wealth "in the shadows." More would say that even the richest governor in the United States can't operate that way.

While his administration of the state's response to the COVID pandemic has been commendable, the governor can't pick and choose which major issues he deigns to address.

The future of the Arlington Park land, particularly given the implications of imperiousness by a private out-of-state corporation, is now a major issue.

Gov. J.B., where are you?

The announcement of the Bears bid was potentially the organization's most positively impacting move since ...

Without question, the September 1974 day when George Halas Sr. and Jr. announced the hiring of Jim Finks as general manager.

That was the afternoon that set the Bears on the long and shuffling road to the magic of the 1985 Super Bowl XX season.

In the end, "The Papa Bear" would hand Finks close to 3 percent of the team's stock plus an annual salary to move over from the Minnesota Vikings.

But it also signaled in over-the-moon neon blue and orange that the Bears would be conducting business in a whole new manner.

That new generational Halas energy would even prompt the first serious conversations between the Bears and Arlington Heights village overseers regarding a possible new stadium on the Arlington Park land (albeit in concert with continued racing at the track.)

Historical note: The first confirmed conversation of the possibility of the Bears-at-AP came at a holiday soiree in 1968. It involved then-track empress Marje Everett and "The Papa Bear" himself.

Halas was intrigued, because Everett had just completed a swank hotel/live theater/lighted nine-hole golf course on her property.

But her focus was soon sidetracked by the racetrack stock "scandal" that would enable Richard Nixon's U.S. Justice Department to take down ill-starred Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner.

As for Finks, he endured through nine monumental years of building a Super Bowl contender. But his frustration finally reached the breaking point months after his magical 1983 draft when he resigned and shortly after became president of the Cubs.

Ironically, when Finks returned to the NFL with New Orleans in 1986, the two most ardent suitors for his Bears stock were Jerry Reinsdorf and partner Gene Fanning, an auto dealer.

The cash-strapped McCaskeys -- primarily father Ed and CEO son Mike -- scurried to find enough money to pay Finks his due and return the 3 percent to the family's ownership portfolio.

If the Bears wind up in an owned, retractable dome, the NFL will be popping Champagne corks from Inglewood to Foxboro and beyond.

One leaky tiki brings the whole fleet down.

Perception matters, especially with a sports business entity that is quietly eyeballing expansion into such new foreign frontiers as London and Frankfurt.

The Bears -- even at $3.5 billion -- are the most undervalued franchise in the league.

The announcement by Phillips on Thursday at least hints the organization is shopping for some kind of vision upgrade.

At best, they represent the cuddly mom-and-popper holding out on mall space overwhelmed by the big-box stores.

No one can fairly question the sincere effort put up by the brightest minds at Halas Hall.

But a tangible, architecturally celebratory stadium would wow even the Stan Kroenkes and Jerry Joneses of the NFL's increasingly aureate kings world.

If the Bears want to pursue Arlington Heights, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot needs a sharp pal to help her with brand management.

If the Bears want to fulfill the "Improper Relocation" clause in their contract with the Chicago Park District, there is little the Office of the Mayor of Chicago can do.

Lightfoot's rush to respond on Thursday was perceived as rash and unfortunate even by some rooting for her success.

It certainly woke up echoes of the equally asinine statement of the declining Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1975 that, "Then they can call themselves 'The Arlington Heights Bears.'"

"The Chicago Bears" is a world-renown trademark. Its usage has brought hundreds of millions of dollars over the decades in free positive promotion and publicity to the city of Chicago.

The idea that any Chicago mayor would try to "block" the organization's continued billboarding as a proud and bold symbol of "The City That Works" is enough to prompt efforts to find out if Chuy Garcia is still interested in being mayor.

Mayor Lightfoot needs to realize that many times in life, the untweeted word never comes back to haunt you.

Especially when the possibility now exists that the Chicago Bears could be both hosting and playing in Super Bowl 67 -- likely on Sunday, March 6, 2033 -- in George S. Halas Stadium at Arlington Park.

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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