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Fans stay level-headed at Soldier Field

The Baltimore Ravens had just kicked a field goal for a 10-point first-quarter lead over the Bears at Soldier Field when something even more ominous occurred — an evacuation order.

"Attention: Please clear the stadium seating area and relocate to the nearest covered concourse," said a message that flashed on the video screens. "Please remain calm and leave the seating area in an orderly fashion."

A severe storm that had spawned tornadoes was approaching the stadium, forcing a rare evacuation and delay of the game. The NFL feared lightning strikes.

Officials repeated the evacuation instructions over the loudspeakers as fans started filing out of their seats and into the sheltered area. They waited there for more than an hour for the worst of the storm to pass.

"I was really worried," said Lindsay O'Brien, of Chicago. "You could see the clouds rolling, and the wind would pick up and debris started flying. The flags were flying one way, and then another."

Once out of the pelting rain, fans drank and ate — until the concessions were closed — and monitored the weather on their phones.

Some ventured into the downpour to buy beer.

Chants of "Let's go Bears!" erupted, keeping spirits high.

As the evacuation drew on, workers at concession stands closed their windows, causing a moment of protest from the crowd.

"They closed the concessions I heard because people were getting a little rowdy near the food," said Candace Zorn, of Naperville.

In parts of the stadium, the slow pace of the evacuation left some fans feeling trapped, and cold.

"They kept repeating on the loudspeaker for us to clear the area as if we had anywhere to go," said Brandon Rudd, of Valparaiso, Ind. "Everybody stayed calm, and everybody got out."

O'Brien said she and her husband watched in frustration as a single security officer was unable to usher the crowds into the evacuation area.

The couple waited in the stands for more than 30 minutes, O'Brien said.

"I was aware of what was coming our way, but we just couldn't get out," O'Brien said. "There was nowhere for us to go."

By the time they reached cover, the O'Briens, who were at their first Bears game, were soaked, cold and ready to head home. They missed the come-from-behind victory as the Bears defeated the Ravens 23 to 20 in overtime.

An NFL spokesman said the decision to suspend play was based on lightning in the area.

"Weather is unpredictable, and there was a chance that the game could proceed without a delay," said spokesman Michael Signora. "When lightning dictated that a stoppage was necessary, the procedures ... were followed."

About an hour after the evacuation, players retook the field and fans were allowed back in their seats, but a strong wind kept blowing. Litter spewed out of overturned garbage cans, and steady gusts sent it flying through the stands.

A few of the players said the focus in the locker room remained on the game, not the weather.

"We came in. We talked," said David Bass, Bears rookie defensive end. "Everybody spoke on what the other team was doing and how we can play against it and come back and get this win.

"After that, they came and gave us energizing foods — Gatorade bars, Nutri-Grain bars, oranges. Things like that. Then we just got to put our legs up and relax."

Tribune reporters David Haugh and Fred Mitchell contributed.

mmharris@tribune.com

kgeiger@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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