Of all the Super Bowls, this one offered a challenge with the worst weather conditions: ice and snow. We had excellent grass practice fields at TCU and SMU. One of the practice fields at each site had to be tarped in case of rain. With the weather reports coming in, we had to cover all the outdoor fields two days before the first practice. Then, on February 1, Dallas got hit hard with an ice and snowstorm plus frigid weather, with wind chills well below zero. The field covers had 1 to 1.5 inches of ice covering the tarp. That forced both teams to hold their three workouts indoors.
One of my favorite groundskeepers, one of the best, John Nolan of Chicago’s Soldier Field, was flown in by the NFL the week of the Super Bowl to help supervise the removal of all the snow from the sidewalks to the streets and on the parking lots.
The grounds crew volunteered to help remove the snow on the sidewalks around the stadium using eight Toro blowers and tractors. Perhaps you read, or saw on TV, the reports about the six people who were injured from ice and snow falling off the stadium roof. They reported there were many 1 to 3-inch-thick chunks of ice.
Just prior to the incident, our grounds crew members that were helping with snow removal were about to run out of gas. They had to return to the stadium basement to fill up. Fifteen minutes later, in the area they had just left, the ice and snow came tumbling down.
Working inside the stadium there were several times during the day that we heard what sounded like a train or a low-flying jet, and we could see through the windows that an avalanche of ice and snow had fallen. Helicopters were brought in to help blow the ice and snow off the roof.
The grass fields remained covered with ice and snow for six days. On Saturday, and again on Super Bowl Sunday, warmer temperatures melted the ice and snow. After the game, all equipment used for the Super Bowl is cleaned and made storage ready. On Monday, all the tarps were dumped, dried, cleaned and folded. Then the tarps and much of the other equipment were loaded on three 55-foot tractor trailers for the trip to an NFL warehouse in Atlanta, where they will be stored for use in Super Bowl XLVI.
The Super Bowl grounds crew members have what it takes to get the job done. Those who know Ed Mangan know that the job has to be done no way but the right way. It is like a well-oiled machine, with hospital operating room cleanliness. Everything is organized.
While at TCU, we went to lunch at a famous hamburger restaurant, and there was a quote on the wall from legendary TCU coach Leo R. “Dutch” Meyer: “Fight ’em till hell freezes over. Then fight ’em on the ice!” Meyer coached football, baseball and basketball for nearly 30 years, and this was his attitude – and, I honestly believe it is the attitude of the entire Super Bowl grounds crew, especially this year. What did this Super Bowl prove once again? Never say it cannot be done, for with this crew it will be done.
If you have a grounds crew, you may have a good groundskeep- er and a lazy one. If you are in this pinch, here’s some advice an old-time farmer once told me. If you had a team of horses pulling a wagon, and somehow that wagon got into a ditch, how would you get it out? You might have to use the whip, but if you whip the lazy horse, he still won’t get you out of the ditch. You have to whip the good horse, because he will be the one to make the extra effort that will get you out of the ditch. The same goes for groundskeeping; the pressure goes on the good groundskeepers, because they will get the job done right.
I wish that all groundskeepers could see the Super Bowl field painting operations. Last fall, it was very sad for me to see a professional groundskeeper painting a professional football practice field. It seemed that the crew had little pride, but here I blame their leader. They had a very sloppy operation, lines not on the exact yard lines. I never saw a rag or towel. The hash mark boards were covered with paint and dripping, never wiped. The same was true of the hard plastic numbers. When they were finished, they would pile them on top of each other and drag them to the cart, leaving white paint lines on the field.
God bless the groundskeepers who care. Word gets around. I check in with other groundskeepers, and they agree with me about leadership and attitude. There is no use talking to those with the wrong attitude, for one can lead the horse to water, but can’t make him drink it.
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 email@example.com.