For many of us, the end of winter means the end of a great football season. I was pleased to watch the televised coverage of the NFL playoffs and the College Bowl games this season and see the excellent job many of our groundskeepers did on the fields. I also tip my hat to those many unsung heroes out there producing high school fields of excellence.
During the past year, some pro groundskeepers were disgruntled with me because of things I said in these Toma Tales columns—though, overall, I had more compliments than gripes. I get my information from sports writers, TV announcers, players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, salesmen, fansand, yes, a groundskeeper who may be sitting next to you at a turfgrass conference. Some people did call me with gripes, and I’m glad they did. That doesn’t bother me. Talking openly is the best way to get to the bottom of any issue. The only thing that bothers me is poor playing fields.
We must improve our fields. If something goes wrong, we have to fix it. Remember, at the pro level our owners have millions of dollars invested in their players. We need to give them a good, safe playing field, which is the cheapest form of insurance. I have preached honesty and integrity and a stop to any form of corruption in order to achieve those great fields.
I’ve also preached that the grounds-keeper and sod grower need to work together. I take my hat off to a terrific groundskeeper who took the bull by the horns, Tony Leonard of the Eagles. Tony worked very closely with Tuckahoe Turf Farms and, working as a team, they produced some outstanding sod—excellent football sod for the Eagles’ field— for the Steelers and the Browns. As I’ve always said, football is played in the turf, not on top of it. In November, I visited Tony just after he resodded his field wall to wall right on top of the GrassMaster system. I talked to Tony after the Dallas Cowboys game and the sod was still in excellent shape. Tony, you improved your field and others in the NFL 100 percent. You are my Groundskeeper of the Year.
A standing ovation to the many groundskeepers on their great fields for the Bowl games. Roland Rainey and his three-man crew at the Cotton Bowl did a terrific job in all three phases: footing, turf color and painted logos. Their bermuda turf was overseeded.
I remember working on the Cotton Bowl field 43 years ago when SMU played the Georgia Bulldogs. After the game we had 15 hours to convert the field for the NFL Championship Game between the Cowboys and the Packers. We had problems with heavy fog and worked all night. The Cotton Bowl crew then did an outstanding job, too.
Hats off to Will Schnell for his work on the field of the Rose Bowl—my favorite stadium. The Rose Bowl field was excellent in all three phases. The field for the Insight Bowl at Arizona State University in Tempe was in great shape, too, thanks to the crew headed by Brian Johnson, one of the top men on the Super Bowl crew.
How about the great job Alan Sigwardt did at Dolphin Stadium for the Orange Bowl? The Miami Hurricanes play their games there, too. Alan resodded wall to wall with top-quality sod from Mark Paluch of Bent Oak Farms in Foley, Ala. No grass dye was used. After the Orange Bowl, Alan resodded all the logo areas plus the end zones for the playoff game between the Ravens and the Dolphins. Those areas were converted back again for the BCS Championship game. What a prefect field.
We can’t forget the outstanding job Mark Clay and Nick Fedewa do for the Jaguars and the Gator Bowl. And, they do it on a low budget. Or, the job Charles English and his crew do on the artificial turf at the Georgia Dome. Charles is another great Super Bowl crew member. Congratulations go to Tim Peterson and Andy Levy for the great job they did at the Fiesta Bowl with a one-day changeover after the Cardinals-Falcons game.
Hats off to Steve Wightman for the work he and his crew do at Qualcomm in San Diego with the Chargers games and Bowl games. They do a great job of sodding and spot-sodding, keeping the field in shape after many games.
I apologize if I missed mentioning anyone whose fields stood up to the challenge during those televised end-of-season games. Thank you to all the groundskeepers—from the pros to the peewee leagues—who do a great job.
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 67 years in the profession. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com.