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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: NFL Sunday edition

Let’s look back at a better era of Chicago Bears football.

The Bears, ending yet another bad season, might actually have a shot at winning this afternoon’s game at Soldier Field against the New York Giants.

That’s the lead-in to examining today’s sleuthing photo, again a nice aerial shot of Wrigley Field during a Bears game. It shows the temporary bleachers in right field quite well.

What do we know about this photo?

First, even at this low resolution it’s pretty clear the marquee says “Season’s Greetings.”

Second, there’s a bit of melting snow on the lower deck roof, so it’s got to be December. (There were no January NFL games back then.)

Third, the clock shows 12 noon, and the game has not yet started, but the stands are almost full, with lots of people still waiting to get in. It looks like there’s a marching band of some kind on the field, perhaps.

Fourth, the coal yard is gone. That was demolished in 1961. The restaurant that eventually became Yum Yum Donuts is there. That restaurant was called Henry’s Hamburgers in 1963.

Fifth, there is only one game listed on the board. Even back then, in general all the games were listed on the board during NFL games.

Thus — this has to be the NFL championship game between the Bears and Giants, December 29, 1963, just a few days more than 58 years ago. That game started at 12:05 p.m.. Most Bears home games back then started at 1:05.

I sent Mike Bojanowski this photo to see if he concurred with my analysis, and he did. He also added: “Apparently Rozelle asked Halas to move this game to Soldier Field, and was refused (try THAT one now). The scheduled start time was moved one hour earlier, to 12:05, to save daylight in case overtimes were necessary.”

He also sent me this wider view of the same image, which shows cars parked anywhere and everywhere around Wrigley:

Knowing that he grew up in the neighborhood around the ballpark, I asked him about it. That led him to send me this story:

Al asked for an account of what the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field was like during football Sundays during the Bears’ tenure there. As can be seen by the wider view image, there are cars occupying every conceivable nook for blocks in all directions.

I grew up on Southport Avenue, almost directly across from Blaine Elementary, a half-mile from Wrigley. Ours was a three-story, all-wood blunderbuss of a house, built in 1890, not in a foundation, but atop a huge wood truss set into a crawl space. On windy days, like we’ve had in the city recently, the whole structure would move. It no longer exists, but was a survivor of sorts, it stood for 118 years.

On game Sundays, there were cars everywhere cars were not supposed to be. In our alleys, our driveways, in the school lot. Funny thing, attitudes then were subtly different, working-class homeowners were more interested in preserving the spatial integrity of their property than considering the monetary possibilities of paid parking. That came later.

There were howls of protest every fall, but nothing was ever done. This was the time of the first mayor Daley’s greatest hold on municipal power, nothing was enforced unless word came directly from City Hall. The ward committeemen often had more clout than the aldermen. Papa Bear (Halas) and Hizzonner (Daley), were all but blood brothers, so the situation never changed. For better and worse, aldermen now have far more authority than they did then.

One snowy Sunday, my father literally took matters into his own hands. A professional artist and a kickbutt sign painter, he took a can of paint and rendered NO PARKING, not merely on our garage, but on all garages along the alleyway. I was sure there’d be trouble, but there wasn’t. And, believe it or not, the new signage was respected. I guess it looked sufficiently official. A small triumph for the cloutless peasantry.

Perhaps the Bears can defeat the Giants again on this cold Chicago Sunday.