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Thanks to dumb luck, the NFL averted disaster

By Alex Quigley

For RedEye

3:21 PM CST, November 18, 2013

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It was careless ignorance of the situation at hand. It wasn't even flawed reasoning—it was a lack of reasoning altogether. And although the memory of the positive result will trump the poor decision process as time marches on, we shouldn't forget what almost happened.

Yes, Marc Trestman should've used his timeouts late in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a chance to win the game in regulation after a potential Baltimore touchdown. But I'm talking about the insane decision to start that game at noon.

The National Weather Service doesn't dole out "Potentially Dangerous Situation" warnings lightly. We receive about one per year, and they always, *always* result in damaging, life-threatening weather. By sunrise Sunday, it was clear there'd be multiple severe weather events in the area, and that downtown Chicago would be hit hard around 1 p.m. Tornado warnings were going up as early 9:30 a.m. for McHenry County.

They could've made it an NFL late game, starting it at 3:25 p.m. Or 7 p.m. Or Monday. Or, you know, maybe don't worry about fitting a football game into a strict window of time when 60,000 people will be sitting in the open while the atmosphere for hundreds of miles is a roiling cauldron of chaos.

Modern weather forecasting can't tell us exactly where or when a severe storm will hit. It can't forecast tornadoes hours in advance at a pinpoint location. But it can tell when a there's a significant risk for a specific span of time, and Soldier Field was in that area at that time.

The "evacuate everyone to the concourse" plan did not work. Hundreds of people remained out in the elements, unable to squeeze into the tunnels along with everyone else at once. If a tornado had dropped out of that soup near downtown Chicago instead of Coal City, it would have been a disaster on par with the Eastland.

And that was risked for what? Fantasy football lineups locking on time? Bitchin' tailgate parties?

Instead we got "lucky" and only eight people died across the Midwest in the storms. But we weren't in control of that number; the random fluctuations of Mother Nature spared us. There will be a next time, whether it's Soldier Field or Wrigley Field or Chicagoland Speedway. Next time, those in charge need to choose better.

RedEye special contributor Alex Quigley can be heard on WGN Radio 720.

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