For every major sports event, you’ll find dedicated people concentrating on making the playing field the superstar. For the early Super Bowl games, I went by myself. Then, for Super Bowl IV, I took two men with me. Year after year, it has grown. There were 30 people on the NFL XLV Super Bowl crew. There are many repeaters, and now the average experience level for a veteran Super Bowl crew member is 16 years. Some have 20-plus years, some just one or two. My son Ryan is a regular, taking time off from his duties as an airline pilot to become part of the crew. Some come from the baseball side, like Matt Balough, assistant with Luke Yoder at the San Diego Padres, and Ryan Kaspitzke, who was head groundskeeper for the Salt Lake Bees and now works in field construction. We have two terrific young ladies on the crew: Heather Nabozny, head groundskeeper for the Detroit Tigers, and Carrie Thomas.
We also have three people from Japan. Twelve years ago, Show Ikeda was working in the Big Egg, the Tokyo Dome. He was the first man in the boxing ring when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. He helped me build fields in Japan for the NFL games. Now he owns a company that builds and maintains athletic fields and has his own sod farm. He also works on the NFL London crew.
We’ll always have at least one rookie, thanks to the Toro Turf Management student contest, under the direction of Dale Getz. The Super Bowl XLV winner was Casey Dallas from Kansas State University. Casey is a senior in turf management. Casey did a tremendous job “and then some.” What a terrific young groundskeeper. He has excellent knowledge, the right attitude, pride and an outstanding work ethic. He doesn’t walk, he runs, and he’s always thinking ahead for the next step. Whoever gives him a job after graduation will have an outstanding groundskeeper.
There’s always a Super Bowl groundskeep- er team picture taken after the game. This year’s shot captured rookie Casey Dallas getting hit with the traditional Gatorade splash. I always sit far away from the student – last year there was a misfire and Dale Getz and groundskeeper Wayne Ward of Raymond James Stadium got hit. Wayne is a veteran groundskeeper, but was a rookie on the crew. He actually got the splash twice, once after the Pro Bowl and again after the Super Bowl.
On a grounds crew there is always an unsung hero, the hard worker who keeps things going. Our unsung hero is Lee Keller, head groundskeeper for the University of Vermont. I found Lee at Boardwalk and Baseball in Haines City, Fla., at that time the home of the Kansas City Royals’ spring training. Lee has done 11 Super Bowls. It could have been 15, but I could not afford to take him some years, because if I did, the fields would not have been ready for spring training. Lee would come down on his own for a week or two to learn groundskeeping. Finally, he was hired to take care of the four cloverleaf fields. Lee is an “and then some” groundskeeper. He takes care of the equipment at the Super Bowl. He keeps the crew in fuel; he has to get the fuel through security for all the equipment. And, he keeps track of the supplies, making sure we have what we need when and where we need it. Lee does it all. He even sees that the crews get to the airport on time for their flights, and many times he’s my driver.
The field markings, not only on the game field, but also on all the practice fields, looked like they were printed by laser. Splashboards are used to make sure that happens. Some boards are 20 years old. All of the splashboards and the numbers, hashes and the boards used for outlining the logos are wiped with a towel to remove excess paint. There is no dripping of paint on the field, everything is wiped. Each paint crew has a supply of towels for this task. That creates Lee’s biggest job, getting up to 200 towels a day washed, dried and ready for use.
Each day after we are finished with the equipment, it all has to be cleaned, because Ed Mangan is a perfectionist, and all the equipment must be kept looking brand new. With Lee on the job, and all the other excellent groundskeepers, all the airless spray equipment looks like new; there’s no paint on the machines, the hose or the wheels.
We always use boards for accurate edges when painting logos for the Super Bowl. Still, there are some good eyeballers out there. My Eye-Ball Hall of Fame includes: Scott Parker of the St. Louis Rams; Brian Johnson and Pete Wozniak of the Arizona State University Sun Devils Stadium; Mike Reno; Ed Mangan, NFL field director; and Dennis Brolin, owner of Sports Turf Specialties. I’m sure there are many additional unsung heroes out there.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.