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Super Bowl Behind the Scenes: Off-Site

By George Toma


The early crew for Super Bowl XLV started arriving on January 14, and the final crew came in January 29. The practice site for the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers was at Texas Christian University (TCU). For the NFC champion Green Bay Packers it was Southern Methodist University (SMU).

The TCU athletic fields are maintained by 17-year veteran David Yarbrough and his crew. They do an excellent job and provided anything our NFL crew needed. They have two grass football practice fields and an indoor facility, the Sam Baugh Indoor Practice Facility, with five-year-old FieldTurf. TCU also has a new baseball field and football game field that are Tifway 419 bermuda. The two practice fields are GN-1. All the natural grass fields were supplied by Randy Price of Tri-Tex Grass.

The NFL could not practice on the game field because of construction. On December 5, half the stadium was imploded so that half of the stadium can be built new. Once the first half is completed, they will implode the remaining half. The weekend of January 28, David had the stadium field spruced up with sharp lines and TCU logos since it was football recruit time.

The grass practice fields had been overseeded with ryegrass, and the bermuda was in excellent shape with no worn-out areas. However, the cold weather hit the bermuda hard, so the NFL crew painted the fields green using World Class Turf Colorant. (As of this writing, a trademark name had yet to be decided on by World Class.)

The two grass fields were painted to NFL markings and the end zones with the Steelers' logo. A 3-foot white border was put around each field. Even though these are practice fields, everything has to be as sharp looking as the Super Bowl field.

The FieldTurf on the indoor field is maintained with two different artificial turf maintenance machines. The field is in constant use with all the sports using it. I cringed when I saw them throwing the shot put on it. A week before the first AFC practice, FieldTurf came in with their machines to recondition the field. Pro hash marks were painted along with two 6-foot dashes where the numbers go.

Kris Harris and Russell Coe maintain the fields at SMU. Kris worked for Ed Mangan at the Atlanta Braves. He moved on to Georgia Tech and then to SMU, where he serves as assistant athletic director for facilities and operations.

Working under Kris is Russell Coe, director of turf management. Russell is one of the best young groundskeepers that I have seen in a while - great knowledge, work ethics, enthusiasm and attitude. He has the "and then some."

For the NFC team practice site, SMU had one regulation grass field and two 40-yard grass fields alongside it. The fields were overseeded with ryegrass and painted with the World Class turf colorant. At the entrance to the grass fields, Mark Paluch of Bent Oak Turf Farm in Foley, Ala., brought in some Tifway 419 bermuda for resodding. The sodded area had a huge Green Bay logo painted on it, which made a beautiful picture for those looking through the gate. At one time, the fields were SportGrass. Actually, they still are, but with topdressing over the years, that is now buried 3 to 4 inches down.

After our NFL crew finished painting the field and all the logos, Kris and Russell took Ed Mangan, me and the crew to the top roof of the stadium overlooking the practice field for pictures. It looked laser-sharp, like an artist had painted it; beautiful green grass with bright white field markings and great logos.

The artificial turf game field is eight-year-old A-Turf. Kris and Russell have done an outstanding job of maintaining it. While it still looks good, the fibers are starting to wear. This field was scheduled for removal on February 7, with the new installation to be Mondo artificial turf with the new Ecofill infill. On the A-Turf field, all the college-level markings were inlaid. All the NFL hash marks were painted Packers' yellow. The numbers were painted Packers' yellow with Packers' green trim. Two Packers' logos were painted on the 25-yard lines.

SMU does not have an indoor facility. Arrangements were made for the Packers with Highland Park High School, which has a new indoor facility. I can honestly say that it is first class. All sports practice on it. Two baseball batting cages hang from the ceiling on the sidelines. The artificial surface here is Polytan LigaTurf, made in Birmingham, Ala. It was installed by a crew from Germany. Polytan is also on the complete surface of the girls' softball field and will be installed on the football field, also with a new infill.

Not only does the Super Bowl crew do the game field and the practice fields, but also the fields for the NFL Experience. This year it was held on 850,000 square feet of the Dallas Convention Center, where 10 artificial turf fields were painted with all the football markings, the NFL logo and numerous sponsor logos. The fields ranged in size from quite small for younger kids up to an 80-yard field. With over 300,000 participants, there was so much activity on these fields that our crew needed to paint them all a second time. It takes dedicated people with a lot of pride to accomplish this, but it's all worth it. We can give those youngsters and grownups the opportunity to forget about the cares of the world for a little while and soak up the NFL Experience.

George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, one of the founders of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 69 years in the profession. E-mail him at tomatales@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com.