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Home of the White Sox finally houses football

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Northern Illinois game at Guaranteed Rate Field looks unusual, but successful

Northern Illinois v Toledo Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the second time in as many months -- after the years of nothing at all -- the home of the White Sox turned on the lights for somebody else on Wednesday night.

The Northern Illinois-Toledo game didn’t draw the same numbers as Chance the Rapper, but the various reports suggest it was a successful effort from a game-operations standard.

Northern Illinois v Toledo Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Only 10,180 fans showed up to see the first football game in Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field/Guaranteed Rate Field history, compared to the 48,000 Chance drew to set the stadium’s attendance record. #MACTION is a fun brand of football, and Toledo won 31-24 on a last-minute touchdown. Alas, the Huskies aren’t having a typical season, as an injury to their starting quarterback in the second game of the season threw them off. They lost six of seven to start the year, they’re 3-7 now, and their streak of eight consecutive bowl games is going to come to an end.

As a result, they aren’t drawing in DeKalb, either:

  • Nov. 1: 4,790
  • Oct. 22: 11,801
  • Oct. 15: 8,495

The Illinois Sports Facility Authority’s hands may have been tied in terms of drumming up a whole lot of interest, but it didn’t hamper their gate.

Northern Illinois v Toledo Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In terms of hosting the game, the only comments about the venue I can find are positive. From before the game:

You can’t prepare for tightened, back-of-the-end zone stuff. They’ve done a good job – I went down there – they’ve done a good job with padding and spacing and all the things,” Carey said. “You know it’s a baseball stadium when you walk in, but they’ve done a great job with the grass, the sod has really taken and the dimensions and everything. It’s not like – no offense to the Cubs fans – it’s not like playing a game in Wrigley, where you’re only playing one way.”

And afterward:

It's the fourth time the Huskies have played in Chicago, with three games played at Soldier Field.

The event was full of pomp and circumstance, including stadium fireworks shooting off after every Northern Illinois touchdown.

"It was cool as a senior, having it be my last 'home' game in Chicago, you have to focus on the game," said [Kenny] Golladay, who is from Chicago. "You can talk with your family after the game."

Golladay, a St. Rita’s High School product, caught 14 balls for 149 yards on his new home turf, and sounded genuinely thrilled for the opportunity:

“To be back where I grew up all my life, that was amazing,” he said. “I never really thought about putting a football field in a baseball stadium, but it turned out great.” [...]

“Just being able to say I played there (Guaranteed Rate Field), that’s awesome,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t sold out, we still had a nice crowd.”

Northern Illinois v Toledo Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Most of the game action looks relatively typical for a football game, although having Jason Benetti on the call for ESPN gave it a sense of the setting. Here’s a random play in a middle of the field:

Golladay’s four-yard touchdown catch does the best job of encapsulating the pecularities of the park. He scored on a fade route, which could’ve been dangerous. The ball was underthrown, which saved him a collision with the closer-than-usual back wall. And the fireworks are pretty sweet, too.

While you can see the close quarters in effect on that play, there was enough space in foul territory for a usable end zone, unlike the backyard-football accommodations at Wrigley Field that made one side of the field unplayable. I can’t find what the parties involved expected for attendance, but if the draw wasn’t an issue, I’m not seeing another. Hopefully this is the first of a series, because the more reason people have to come to the neighborhood, the better, especially if the Sox have close to the full menu on the concourse:

(It’s in IFSA’s interest to have as much food available as possible, since it gets to keep all parking and concession revenue.)