Safety First – Even for a Northwestern Football Game at Wrigley Field?
I'm really excited that I'm going to be attending tomorrow's Northwestern football game that's being played at Wrigley Field, the legendary baseball stadium that opened in 1912. This will be the first college game played there since 1938 and the first pro game since 1970 (yes, the Bears used to play there).
It's going to be a really unique experience, but I hope the game ends up being safe for all of the players.
I'm not wringing my hands over the usual unfortunate injuries that can occur. But there is a special risk for Saturday's game that you might have heard about on ESPN.
The football field used by the Bears back in the day ran from left field down toward home plate. It barely fit, as shown below. Rumor had it that the end zones were only 8 yards deep, instead of the usual 10 (or something to that effect).Embed from Getty Images
Wrigley has been modified since 1970 to add a few more pricey seats for the Cubbies. With the modifications (and even with removing a few seats along the third base side), the field barely fits, once again. This time it rights down the right field line, as shown in this picture.
The problem is that there are only about 6 inches of space behind the right field end zone before you get to the pads that are covering the famous ivy wall, as shown here in the full image from this article (you really need to click on that link to appreciate what I'm talking about).
There's such a lack of space that the goal post is mounted onto the right field wall (and as a fun aside, field goals may fly out onto Sheffield Avenue, as there's no net for the goal posts). And, of course, if Northwestern fans catch an Illinois field goal, we'll throw it back as they do for visitor home runs at Cubs games.
Back to the issue at hand — is that safe having the wall that close to the field? I'll basically turn off my “lean brain” on Saturday, but it's a legitimate issue for a “workplace” (the players get free tuition on scholarship, so it's a form of compensation).
A Lean organization makes safety the top priority, whether it's a factory or a hospital (where patient safety AND employee safety both matter). Here is what Toyota's Taiichi Ohno wrote on the subject:
“…we must never forget that safety is the foundation of all our activities. There are times when improvement activities do not proceed in the name of safety. In such instances, return to the starting point and take another look at the purpose of that operation.”
The Wildcats and the Illini all say the situation is considered safe enough, that they're not worried. From this article:
Don't expect any deep routes with tiptoe reaches on the end line. But other than sensible play-calling, both coaches said they're confident the safety question has been asked and answered.
”Both universities felt great about it from a risk-management standpoint,” NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ”It will be an element in the game, but we'll plan accordingly.”
Like Fitzgerald, Illinois coach Ron Zook trusts that school officials investigated the safety issue fully before proceeding.
”If they don't make it in the NFL, they can go into the Arena (Football) League,” said Zook, who kidded with his receivers about the confining confines of Wrigley. ”There are a couple of areas that are tight. But I don't think it's as big a deal as everybody's trying to make it.”
I hope they're right. Generally, “hope is not a strategy” when it comes to safety or quality. I hope NU wins, I hope we have a great time, and I hope nobody gets hurt running into that brick wall. I won't drain the fun out of the game, but the P.R. bonanza for my alma mater (ESPN Gameday will be there) could turn into a real bust if somebody busts into that wall.
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