Bob Costas will again be teaming with Mike Milbury in the NBC studio booth for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Costas worked with Milbury last season in Buffalo as well.
"It's a big event, which means we have to have Costas there," NBC producer Sam Flood said. "I asked him as a favor last year to go to Buffalo and when I asked him he goes, 'I've got to do this thing. This sounds like it's going to be a great event.' We finished in Buffalo and I said, 'Bob, do I got you next year?' And, he says, 'Absolutely. I love doing this. I want to be back.'
"Perfect for Bob we get to go to Wrigley Field since we know Bob has a little bit of a passion for baseball. Now he gets to be in one of his favorite spots."
Costas, well-known for his work on NBC's Olympic coverage as well as his current stint on Football Night in America, said he had a blast being at the game last season and the buzz once it was over was palpable.
"For the week after that, everywhere I went it seemed people were remarking about the game and how different it seemed and how it kind of jumped out from the sports landscape," Costas said. "That was something that maybe they intended to watch, but in many cases they had no intention of watching and may not have even been aware that it was one. They're channel surfing and they're going, 'Hey, look at this. This is different. I'll stick with it.' "
Costas remembered being in a Broadway theater in New York City soon after the game and a Canadian family approached him to comment on how wonderful the game was for them.
"It was like this was something special to them. It was moving to them and something that really stood out on the sports calendar to them," Costas said. "So, you know we hope that we can recapture some of that. You can never match the first time and the novelty of the first time, but Wrigley Field gives us a setting and a chance to do some historical stuff and that's pretty much my job. It's not to be a hockey expert. It's to set the scene and capture some of the atmosphere there."
-- Dan Rosen
Wrigley Field in January. The snow glistening in the sun, the ancient park quiet and still … what a beautiful sight, and one not often seen by the general public.
The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio), surprisingly, is not the first time that a sporting event has been held in the 94-year-old park in the dead of winter. But it is a new experience to all but the most venerable of Chicago sports observers.
It’s been 65 years, in fact — all the way back to World War II —since anyone held a January competition in Wrigley Field.
In late 1943, the Norge Ski Jump club of suburban Chicago, a non-profit organization founded in 1905 and dedicated to spreading appreciation of the sport, asked Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley if they could use Wrigley Field for their annual mid-winter ski-jumping competition.
The meet, which was open to both men and women from around the United States, was usually held in the Chicago suburbs. But the gasoline rationing mandated by the U.S. War Production Board during World War II meant that many prospective fans wouldn’t be able to drive the long distance to attend.
Wrigley, losing money on the Cubs during the War and also supporting his brainchild, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was happy to have someone in the park when he wasn’t using it, because he could then sell concessions to the visiting customers.
The media was informed of the tournament on Jan. 3, 1944. To bring in more customers, the Norge club announced that proceeds from the event would be donated to local servicemen’s societies.
The club, headed by Karl Nilsen, experienced unexpected friction over the event, however. The resistance came not from the park’s neighbors, nor the Chicago winds, but rather from Illinois’ War Production Board.
The WPB, which held control of all licenses for entertainment activities during the war years, was concerned that the materials needed to build a new ski jump at Wrigley were critical to the Allied effort, and that it would additionally be wasteful to use gasoline to transport lumber and workers for a “non-essential event.” The WPB officially rejected the event on Jan. 12.
Following some intense and speedy lobbying with the Board, the Norge club were allowed, on Jan. 14, to rent pre-existing metal and concrete material from a local concern and hurriedly construct the ski slide. The event was held on consecutive Sundays, Jan. 23 and 30.
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The tournament featured contestants coming from most Midwest states and some from as far away as Colorado. Jumpers climbed atop a 90-foot-high artificial hill constructed near the backstop and slid toward home plate. The skiers then took off into air, soaring toward the iconic center-field scoreboard that was constructed in 1938 and remains at Wrigley Field today.
The January 23 series of jumps drew 6,000 fans, while the next week’s conclusion of the competition brought in some 5,000. Brooklyn-born Army Sgt. Torger Tokle, serving at Camp Hale, Colorado, was the overall winner of the Class A division, which pitted the tournament’s top jumpers. Beginning adults competed in Class B, youth in Class C, and senior citizens (!) in a special class.
While the Norge club considered running future events at the Cubs’ ballpark, they never did. Following the end of the Second World War, P.K. Wrigley eventually wound down his non-baseball and non-football events, which at one time had included basketball, wrestling and boxing.
The 1944 ski-jump tournament was the only athletic event ever conducted in January at Wrigley Field … until now.
Stuart Shea is covering the ice rink build at Wrigley Field for NHL.com. He is author of "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography" (Potomac Books) and worked a Major League Baseball contributor at Wrigley Field for a decade.