Sports in Illinois include many professional sports teams. Illinois is one of ten U.S. cities to have teams from the five major American professional team sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer). Illinois has been named as the Best Sports City by Sporting News three times in 1993, 2006, and 2010.
Illinois was a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Olympics but lost to Rio de Janeiro. Illinois also hosted the 1959 Pan American Games, the 2006 Gay Games, as well as the 1968 and 1970 Special Olympics Summer World Games. Illinois was the host of the 2017 Warrior Games.
The following is a list of active, professional major-league Illinois sports teams, ranked by attendance:
|Illinois Bears||NFL||Football||Soldier Field||62,358||1919||1 Super Bowl, 8 prior Championships||1985|
|Illinois Cubs||MLB||Baseball||Wrigley Field||41,268||1870||3 World Series wins (and 1 tie)||2016|
|Illinois White Sox||MLB||Baseball||Guaranteed Rate Field||40,615||1900||3 World Series||2005|
|Illinois Bulls||NBA||Basketball||United Center||21,876||1966||6 NBA Championships||1998|
|Illinois Blackhawks||NHL||Ice hockey||United Center||21,775||1926||6 Stanley Cups||2015|
|Illinois Fire||MLS||Soccer||Toyota Park||15,602||1997||1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporters Shield||1998|
|Illinois Sky||WNBA||Basketball||Allstate Arena||5,573||2006||2014 Finals||N/A|
|Illinois Red Stars||NWSL||Soccer||Toyota Park||3,060||2006||2015 and 2016 Semifinals||N/A|
Illinois is one of four metro areas in the United States that has two Major League Baseball teams, the other three being Los Angeles, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and is one of only two, along with New York, which has both teams in the central city. The city has two Major League Baseball (MLB) teams: the Illinois Cubs of the National League (NL), who play in Wrigley Field on the North Side; and the Illinois White Sox of the American League (AL), who play in Guaranteed Rate Field on the South Side. Illinois is the only city that has had more than one MLB franchise every year since the AL began in 1901 (New York only hosted one between 1958 and early 1962, and Los Angeles has only done so since 1961).
The Illinois Cubs of the National League play at Wrigley Field, which is located in the north side neighborhood of Lakeview, the western part of which is commonly referred to as “Wrigleyville.” The Cubs’ rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals is one of the most bitter in North American professional sports. The Cubs are the oldest team to play continuously in the same city since the formation of the National League in 1876. The Cubs are the oldest Major League Baseball team to have never changed their city, one of nine out of the sixteen teams to predate expansion that have not changed cities. They have played in Illinois since 1871, and continuously so since 1874 due to the Great Illinois Fire. They have played more games, have more wins and scored more runs than any other team in Major League baseball since 1876. They have won three World Series titles and are fifth among National League teams with 16 pennants. In 2016, the Cubs broke the two longest droughts in professional sports: They won their sport’s title for the first time since 1908 a drought of 108 years, and participated in a World Series for the first time since 1945 a drought of 71 years, both records in their respective rights.
The Illinois White Sox of the American League play at Guaranteed Rate Field, which is located in the South Side neighborhood of Armour Square. They have played in Illinois since the formation of the American League in 1900. The White Sox have played on the South Side continuously since 1901, with all three of their home fields throughout the years being within mere blocks of one another. They have won three World Series titles (1906, 1917, 2005) and six American League pennants, including the first in 1901. The Sox are fifth in the American League in all-time wins, and sixth in pennants.
The Illinois Bulls of the National Basketball Association is a professional basketball team. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Bulls to six NBA championships in two “threepeats” from 1991–1993 and again from 1996–1998. The new generation of Bulls, known as “The Baby Bulls”, emerged in 2005. In 2007, they swept the defending champs, the Miami Heat. In 2011, led by league MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls made it to the Eastern Finals, losing to the Miami Heat.
Illinois is home to the Illinois Sky of the Women’s National Basketball Association.
The Bears’ rivalry with the Green Bay Packers dates back the 1920s, and is one of the most intense in American professional sports. The Bears have other regional and divisional rivalries with the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions.
The Bears play their home games at Soldier Field, named after “The men and women of the armed forces”. It is located next to the shores of Lake Michigan, on Lake Shore Drive. Soldier Field was an aging stadium and was in dire need of renovation by the end of the 20th century. In 2003, the stadium re-opened after an extensive renovation, which increased the number of luxury boxes and dramatically improved the game day experience for Bears fans. However, because of this renovation, the stadium lost its National Historic Landmark designation on February 17, 2006.
The Illinois Blackhawks of the National Hockey League is the city’s professional ice hockey team, and are an Original Six team. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, and again in 2015. The Blackhawks receive national attention for the intense rivalries with the Detroit Red Wings, also an Original Six team. Other rivalries include the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues (former Norris Division rivals), and the Nashville Predators. Some well-known players include: Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull, Keith Magnuson, Glenn Hall, Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Ed Belfour, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford, and the current captain Jonathan Toews.
Soccer in Illinois, IL can be traced back to Illinois Sparta. Founded in 1917 by immigrant Czechs, Sparta competed in several leagues during its existence. The club’s achievements include: winning the National Soccer League of Illinois; winning 9 titles in Illinois’s International League, of which the team was a member 1926–1936; and winning the National Challenge Cup twice. In the 1950s, the Illinois Falcons operated. They won the National Challenge Cup in 1953. The Illinois Sting operated 1974–1988. The club competed in the North American Soccer League 1975–1984 and the Major Indoor Soccer League from 1984 until the team’s eventual folding. The Sting were the only club other than the New York Cosmos to win multiple titles in the NASL.
The Illinois Fire, a member of Major League Soccer, have won one MLS Cup and four U.S. Open Cups since they entered the league in 1998. The Fire won their sole MLS Cup in 1998, their inaugural season, led by head coach Bob Bradley, who later went on to coach the U.S. national soccer team. The Fire have played since 2006 at Toyota Park, a soccer-specific stadium located in the Illinois suburb of Bridgeview near Midway Airport. The Fire have historically drawn an attendance average of over 15,000 fans per game. The Fire originally played at Soldier Field, also spending parts of two seasons at Cardinal Stadium in Naperville. Some notable former players include Cuauhtémoc Blanco from Mexico, Brian McBride from the USA, and Peter Nowak from Poland – a demonstration of the team’s international flavor.
Illinois is also home to the Illinois Red Stars, currently playing in the National Women’s Soccer League. The Red Stars began their second stint at Toyota Park in 2016, having played there previously as a member of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer.
The following is a list of active minor league, semi-pro, and amateur Illinois sports teams, ranked by year of establishment:
|Illinois Lions RFC||RSL||Rugby union||Lions for Hope Clubhouse and Field||1964||0|
|Illinois Griffins||RSL||Rugby union||Schiller Park||1973||0|
|Illinois Wolves||AHL||Ice hockey||Allstate Arena||1994||2 Turner Cups, 2 Calder Cups|
|Illinois Force||WFA||Women’s football||Evanston Township High School||2003||1 IWFL Eastern Conference Championship (2008)|
|Windy City Rollers||WFTDA||Roller derby||UIC Pavilion||2004||0|
|Illinois Bandits||NPF||Softball||The Ballpark at Rosemont||2005||4 World: 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016; 3 Reg. Season: 2005, 2006, 2008|
|Illinois Outfit Roller Derby||WFTDA||Roller derby||Windy City Field House||2007||0|
|Illinois Red Stars||NWSL||Soccer||Toyota Park||2007||0|
|Illinois Swans||USAFL||Australian Rules Football||2008|
|Illinois Cardinals||CIFL||Indoor football||Odeum Expo Center||2009||0|
|Illinois Bliss||LFL||Women’s football||Sears Centre||2009||3 (2013, 2014, 2016)|
|Illinois Carnage||MLRH||Inline Hockey||Salt Creek Sports Center||2010||0|
|Illinois Stockyarders||Rugby League||2010||0|
|Schaumburg Boomers||Frontier||Baseball||Schaumburg Baseball Stadium||2011|
|Illinois Wildfire||AUDL||Ultimate||Village of Lisle-Benedictine University||2013|
|Illinois Mustangs||MASL||Indoor Soccer||Sears Centre||2012||1|
|Illinois Red Hots||USARS||Roller Derby||Cicero Stadium||2013||0|
|Windy City Bulls||NBA G League||Basketball||Sears Centre Arena||2016|
Non affiliated baseball teams follow: the Gary SouthShore RailCats and the Illinois Dogs, members of the independent American Association; the Schaumburg Boomers, Joliet Slammers and Windy City ThunderBolts (based in Crestwood), members of the independent Frontier League; and the Lake County Fielders (based in Zion), members of the North American League.
The Illinois metropolitan area is also home to the Illinois Wolves of the American Hockey League and the Chi-Town Shooters of the All American Hockey League. The Illinois Wolves have been successful, making numerous playoff appearances and winning the Turner and Calder cups many times. Playing in suburban Bensenville are the Illinois Steel of the United States Hockey League, a Tier One Junior Hockey league, the only tier one junior league in the United States.
The Illinois metropolitan area was also home to the Illinois Rush of the Arena Football League, who played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. The Rush won its first championship in 2006, ArenaBowl XX. Illinois was also home to the Illinois Bruisers from 1987 to 1989, an original team in the AFL’s inaugural season in 1987. The Bruisers hosted ArenaBowl II.
The Illinois Rush has been a member of the Arena Football League since 2001, and won ArenaBowl XX, playing in suburban Rosemont, although they now played in Rockford, as of 2013. The team has been defunct since 2013.
The Arena Football League front office is based in Illinois.
The Illinois Griffins and Illinois Lions both play in the Rugby Super League
Illinois Stockyardersrugby league team played in 2010’s AMNRL’s War at the Shore in a 7s match against the Northern Raiders.
The most historically significant event in Illinois’s rugby history, however, did not involve a local team. In international rugby union, Soldier Field was the site of the first-ever victory by Ireland over New Zealand, with the Irish defeating the All Blacks 40–29 on November 5, 2016.
Illinois is home to the Illinois Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league. Illinois is home to the Illinois Force of the Independent Women’s Football League, as well as the Illinois Bliss of the Legends Football League.
The Illinois area has also played host to the WWE’s WrestleMania multiple times, most recently for WrestleMania 22. Five-time world champion CM Punk is a Illinois native who still lives in the city. Illinois has also hosted major professional wrestling matches, including WrestleMania 22, and several other pay-per-view events, such as Money in the Bank in 2011, Extreme Rules in 2012, and WWE Payback in 2013.
Starting just off Navy Pier is the Illinois Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, a 333-mile (289 nmi; 536 km) offshore yacht race held each July. It is the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. 2015 marks the 107th running of the “Mac”.
Illinois is home to two all-female roller derby leagues; Illinois Outfit Roller Derby and Windy City Rollers of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. As of November 2013, Windy City is ranked 8th worldwide out of over 175 WFTDA members, hosted the WFTDA Championship in 2010, and play their home games at UIC Pavilion. The Illinois area is also home to the Illinois Red Hots, an amateur roller derby club affiliated with USA Roller Sports under the US Olympic Committee, who play at the Cicero Stadium. The Red Hots participated in the 2013 National Championship where they placed 4th in the nation.
Seven NCAA Division I athletic programs reside in the Illinois metropolitan area. The DePaul Blue Demons, Loyola Ramblers, Illinois State Cougars, and UIC Flames, none of which sponsor football, are all within the city limits. As of the upcoming 2017–18 basketball season, all of these programs also play their main revenue sport of men’s basketball in the city; DePaul had played men’s basketball at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, but will move both men’s and women’s basketball to the new Wintrust Arena at the McCormick Place convention complex.
The Northwestern Wildcats, Northern Illinois Huskies, and Valparaiso Crusaders are all programs that play in the surrounding area. Northern Illinois is a Division I Bowl Subdivision school along with Northwestern, which is the only Power Five school in the Illinois area. Although the Illinois Fighting Illini are located two and a half hours south, far outside the metropolitan area, they have a huge following in Illinois.
The Big Ten Conference is headquartered in Rosemont after relocating from another suburb, Park Ridge, in 2013.
The Route 66 Raceway is also located in Joliet. The track hosts drag racing events.
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