This is part of a series on “bad playing field syndrome.” I want to talk about it so we all can learn from it, and then go on and correct our problems. You all can get on me, but I was bombarded with questions from the press, players, groundskeepers and many football fans. Problems come and problems go. We need to be upfront about them, sharing what led to them. It’s especially important in high-profile situations to get the word out to the sports field managers not on the professional level. They want to know what happens.
Everyone has their own opinions, especially on the Pittsburgh Steelers rain game. At the Super Bowl XLII it was discussed among football groundskeepers, baseball groundskeepers, combinations of people and, without knowing all the details, there were all types of opinions, just like in the media. Some, like USA Today, said replace the groundskeeper, and keep the grass field. Some said keep the groundskeeper replace the field. Some said fire the turf consultant.
Among groundskeepers, the most common opinion was to replace the Grass Master field because it limits the options for resodding. Because so many games are played on the field, it is going to get worn out, especially down the center. On a regular grass field, worn sod can be stripped and the center can be resodded. Turf managers understand that can’t be done on a Grass Master field without destroying the system, but that’s a statement that never makes it to the media. In no way are we against the Grass Master system; it just must have the right environment to do the job.
The Steelers’ rain game was on Monday Night Football, where everyone saw it. This hurt a good, young groundskeeper. To those people who say replace the groundskeeper, I say, “No way!” Why? Because he will learn from it and prove himself.
No sports field manager should feel embarrassed if they have to resod down the center of the football field. Yes, they should do everything they can through management practices to keep the entire field in the best possible condition, but few turf managers at high-profile stadiums have the option of limiting the number of events already scheduled on their fields or canceling football games in bad weather. The wear will happen, and resodding may be the only option to get the field in shape for the next game.
However, they must do it with the best available sod, not with sod that will fall apart. That doesn’t get the job done, and it embarrasses all of us. I have seen it done—at the Meadowlands, at Arrowhead Stadium and many others–and, yes, on some other NFL playing fields. How can someone sod twice in one week? Someone is not doing their homework.
Some day this 79-year-old man would like to get together and have a heart-to-heart talk with the turf managers of the fields that took so many hits by the media about what went wrong, when and why. I hope each of those individuals got together with their crew members to hash it out. Looking back at the situation together, step by step, with all the pieces of the puzzle on the table, they should be able to figure out what they might have done to avoid the bad field situation and what they will do differently the next time. If they can’t see what they might change to make things better, they need to seek help by putting the problems on the line in discussions with other turf managers.
When you put out the call for help, you’ll have suppliers and other sports field managers going all out for you. In an emergency situation, they’ll loan you equipment, maybe even bring their crews to operate it and tackle whatever else they can to get the field whipped into shape. You can have that field aerated within hours with many machines at work. And, if you need to resod, you can have that sod going down at one end of the field as you’re aerating your way to the other end.
The Super Bowl crew has so many stories about past behind-the-scenes field problems and all the ways they came up with to fix them. Most of those fields play well and look good by game time. So, those stories only get shared with other sports field managers. They never make it to the media, but maybe they should.
Making sure we give credit where credit is due, a belated thank you goes to Lesco and Pennington Seed for the ryegrasses that were used to overseed the field for Super Bowl XLII.
George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, founder of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 66 years in the profession.