Super Bowl XLIV was my 44th consecutive Super Bowl, and I added another Pro Bowl, too. Under the leadership of Ed Mangan, NFL field director, everything was in place. Work started on the playing field at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium right after the Orange Bowl. Roy A. Briggs of Briggs Golf Construction out of Jupiter, Fla., had the NFL contract to remove the existing turf and lay the sod with the help of the NFL grounds crew and Alan Sigwardt’s Dolphin crew. Ken Schilling of Laser Turf did the grading. Ken is also on the NFL grounds crew. The entire 101,000 square feet of 419 bermuda was grown this past year under the watchful eye of sod grower Mark Paluch, owner of Bent Oak Farm, LLC of Foley, Ala., and with visits to the farm by Ed Mangan and Alan Sigwardt.
The sod was overseeded in three stages with ryegrass. It was the best sod and best overseeding that I have seen, very dense and uniform in cut and thickness, even after it was hit hard with freezing weather in Foley.
Sod was laid on January 9 and 10 in the extreme frigid weather and two days of steady rain with a wind chill of 27 degrees. Some of the top layers of sod were stiff as a board, and I saw Heather Nabozny, head groundskeeper for the Detroit Tigers, brushing ice off the surface. Once the sod was down, the turf blankets went on. The cold weather set back the bermuda, but tender loving care brought it back.
Three weeks after the sod was laid, practice started for the Super Bowl halftime show. It took 24 hours of practice just for getting the stage on and off the field. Some days we worked 20 hours. The stage had 40 pieces with a total weight of 50 tons. It took about 500 people to pack it in and out, all within the few minutes allotted for it. These volunteers take pride in their work; it’s a pleasure to work with such dedicated people.
The practicing did set the grass back. Besides the stage, the enormous sound trailers are also part of practice. It takes a lot of brushing to stand the grass back up after that. We used brushes with some weights, dragging in two different directions, and pulled by hand so we had no wheel marks.
The Pro Bowl was played January 31. End zones and field logos were painted by our dedicated painters who are also groundskeepers, many are head groundskeepers. We laid out the fields and painted all the markings and logos for the Pro Bowl practice field at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, and we painted the markings and logos on five artificial turf fields for the NFL Experience.
After the Pro Bowl, the two end zones were removed in an all-day rainstorm that brought a total of 4 inches in eight hours. We graded the old-fashioned way, using a ripple board. It does a tremendous job.
The new sod was in perfect condition with good overseeding. We laid it on Monday, rolled it early Tuesday, and that same day started all the logo painting for Press Day. That was the first coat. Everything receives three coats due to the rehearsals and the grass growth. On Thursday, we had 18 hours of halftime rehearsal. That was followed by another 18 hours of pregame rehearsal on Friday, plus 1.5 hours of high school football players running all sorts of plays so CBS could get their 40 cameras set.
A lot of traffic ran over the sidelines to get three stages built, one each for CBS, ESPN and the NFL networks. Ten large lighting units for halftime also needed to be put on the sidelines. Each unit weighed 500 pounds and was mounted on wheels so small they would have rutted the sidelines. The lighting crew and the NFL grounds crew put those units on Toro Workmen and drove them to their spots.
After the game, stages were brought out on the field for the Super Bowl Trophy presentation and about 1,000 people were on the field for hours. When I used my foot to scrape away some of the piles of confetti the next day, the grass was already bouncing back.
There were many compliments from both teams on the practice fields. A sincere thanks to head groundskeeper Edwin Lamour and his men for a terrific job. At the University of Miami, head groundskeeper Chris Denson and his men do an outstanding job with all the athletic fields. Student athletes were still using the fields, but with dedication and timely watering, Chris and his assistant, Benny Avila, got the ryegrass seed to pop in five days.
I appreciate my involvement in 44 Super Bowls and sincerely thank Frank A. Supovitz, senior vice president of events, and Bill McConnell, director of game operations/special events, for the opportunity. To all the people associated who make this event the best in the world and provide an outstanding playing field, thank you for a tremendous 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 68 years in the profession.