"We are excited about the opportunity to play Bears football in Central Illinois in 2002," Phillips said. "Our fans have not only made the Bears an important fabric of the City of Chicago, but also an important piece of our great state."
Memorial Stadium has a seating capacity of 70,904, making it the obvious choice for the Bears. The most convenient site was Northwestern's Ryan Field, but it has a capacity of just 47,000 seats.
Season-ticket holders will not be required to purchase tickets for the 2002 season to retain their seating priority when the Bears open their new stadium at Soldier Field in 2003.
The agreement to play downstate in 2002 returns the Bears to their roots. The team started in Decatur, Illinois in 1920 shortly after team founder George Halas graduated from the University of Illinois in 1918. The team was known as the Decatur Staleys at its inception and had the familiar team colors of orange and blue. In 1921, Halas moved the team to Chicago, and after playing as the Staleys for one year, the team became known as the Bears in 1922.
The 2002 season will not mark the first time the Bears have played in Champaign, but will be the first time Chicago is recognized as the home team. The Bears were the visiting squad in a pair of exhibition games in 1974 and 1975 against the St. Louis Cardinals.