NFL team in NWI a football fantasy? | WBEZ
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Are you ready for some football, in Northwest Indiana?

The Chicago Bears may have hired a general manager, but they’re still looking for a new coach to turn things around. Since the team failed to make the postseason — again — Bears fans have to get their playoff fix elsewhere.

But what if there was another team to root the Chicago market?

Indiana state Rep. Earl Harris (D-East Chicago) plans to introduce a bill in the Indiana General Assembly to lure a new NFL team to Northwest Indiana to spark development.

Call it Harris’ version of fantasy football.

“I want to talk about it. I want to create enthusiasm. I want to get some of the people that I call shakers and movers involved in it and we’ll see where it goes,” Harris said. “The idea of having three football teams, I think it would work. I think it would be an economic boon especially in Northwest Indiana.”

Northwest Indiana resident Tom Byelick says even though he’s a Bears fan, he could root for another team that plays in his backyard.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Byelick said at Rodney’s Sports Bar in Highland, Indiana. “Look at it this way, at least 70,000 people coming in here six or eight weekends out of the year bringing in a lot of money, buying tickets and souvenirs and drinks things like that. I don’t think there’s any way to lose.”

As it turns out, this wouldn’t be Northwest Indiana’s first football team.

Nearly a century ago, the Hammond Pros played for six seasons during the early days of the NFL.

Coach Fritz Pollard would later become the first black coach in the NFL. And future Bears owner George Halas was originally a wide receiver for the Pros, whose “home” games were played at Wrigley Field.

But before you get too excited, here’s where fantasy meets reality.

“Never say never but there’s almost no chance there’s an NFL team relocating to northern Indiana,” said Daniel Kaplan, a writer for the Sports Business Journal. “There’s no way [the Bears] would stand for a team there. And secondly, the NFL doesn’t have any interest in relocating there.”

Of course, 20 years ago it was the Bears who considered relocating to Northwest Indiana. 

The team flirted with the idea of building a new stadium in Gary as a way to get Chicago to renovate Soldier Field. The proposed stadium was called Planet Park — and featured a futuristic, space-ship-looking design.

Sound familiar?

Speros Batistatos, head of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, says Northwest Indiana needs to give visitors more reasons to pull off the expressways.

“If we’re going to compete in the global marketplace, we’ve got to start spending some money creating venues that people are going to want to go to,” he said. “I don’t think it should be limited to just the chase of an NFL team.”

Tom Byelick believes an NFL team is worth chasing, but first residents have to believe in themselves.

“Northwest Indiana in particular got some what of an inferiority complex," Byelick said. "We’re that part of the state that Indiana doesn’t really want and Chicago doesn’t really claim us either. We have a tendency to kind of downplay our own virtues. I mean why not aim high?”

Especially after a season that had Bears fans feeling so low.

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