By Mitch Smith
7:08 AM CDT, August 16, 2013
Knut Lundevold, visiting Chicago from Norway, said the Bears' preseason home opener Thursday promised to be a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.
But that experience ended 65 minutes before kickoff, when Lundevold was stopped outside Soldier Field because of a briefcase he could neither take inside nor afford to leave behind.
The large black bag slung over the tourist's shoulder is among the items banned under a new NFL security policy, one that permits only small purses, freezer bags, transparent plastic bags and medically necessary items.
"I understand they are being careful," Lundevold said of the rule that was being enforced for the first time at Soldier Field.
But most of those among the tens of thousands of fans at Thursday's game seemed to have gotten the message.
The Bears were one of several teams that sent acceptable bags to season ticket holders. Many fans brought those bags, which were on sale outside the stadium and cost $8 on the team website, or picked up complimentary freezer bags near the gate.
The Bears didn't offer storage lockers to backpack-wearing or briefcase-toting supporters. Fans who drove to Soldier Field were able to walk their contraband bags back to their cars. Those who took public transit or walked had few good options, and many said the team should have had an alternative available.
Team officials said they worked hard to bring fans up to speed on the new rules. In addition to notifying season ticket holders, they posted information about the rules on the team website. Employees fanned out around Museum Campus hours before the game started, handing out the freezer bags and fliers about the new policy.
"I think it's going very well tonight, overall," said Bob Laskowski, the team's director of stadium experience.
Speaking just after kickoff, Laskowski said the team doesn't recommend hiding bags in bushes. Multiple fans with oversize bags said security personnel had mentioned that as a possibility.
"That's not something that we're asking people to do," he said. "We're asking them to return them to their cars or not bring them to the stadium."
Longtime season ticket holder Tim Vasquez, of Elgin, said he had plenty of warning about the policy change. His wife brought the clear handbag with the NFL logo that the team sent him.
"They keep all season ticket holders informed," Vasquez said.
Colin Dowding, attending his first game at Soldier Field, said he'd gotten "about a million emails" explaining the rule change since purchasing his tickets. His only complaint was that the transparent bag he purchased outside the stadium wasn't "manly" enough. He suggested that the league create a rucksack version.
But even with the outreach, not everyone was in the know.
Andrew Jackson, born in Chicago but living in Britain, and his wife had brought an expensive backpack to the stadium, far larger than the hand-size purses still allowed inside. The couple were considering hiding the bag in a bush and hoping it would be still there after the game. Like Lundevold and his friends, Jackson hadn't heard about the policy until trying to enter the stadium.
Season ticket holder Ammar Hayani got the NFL-approved bag in the mail but didn't realize that most purses were among the restricted items.
"It stinks, man," Hayani said. "It's very inconvenient."
Hayani and his wife were able to empty the contents of her purse into one team-provided freezer bag. With some effort, they stuffed and folded the purse itself into another.
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