George Toma

In the February issue of Toma Tales, I addressed some bad fields in the NFL. Some NFL groundskeepers got a little riled up about my comments. Those comments were not just my opinion, but the opinions of many groundskeepers, players, TV commentators, the press and football fans. If the shoe fits, you wear it. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.

I take my hat off to Tony Leonard, sports field manager for the Philadelphia Eagles, who was fuming. He called me and wasn’t too happy. Back in January of 2008, I talked to Tony when he visited me at the Super Bowl field in Phoenix. We talked about his problems—the problems with so many games. I know Tony can grow grass. He has proven that with the excellent condition of his practice fields. With the Grass Master system on a field, if problems arise one cannot sod the worn spots. The only way to resod (without displacing the system) is to place the new sod on top of the existing sod, and sometimes only the center of the field needs repair.

The Grass Master system works well in Denver (at INVESCO Field at Mile High), but remember, they do not have as many games as the Eagles and the Steelers. Yes, they did have some problems when they had Major League Soccer using the field as well as the Broncos.

Just remember what George P. Toma always tried to do: Give the players the best possible playing field, a safe field, the cheapest insurance for an athlete. Next, provide a field of beauty for the fans in the stands and those watching on TV. The third thing is to accomplish the first two without taking too much money out of the owner’s wallet.

Some groundskeepers over the years have lost the honesty and integrity by not getting the best sod available. I have seen this year after year. Back in January, I was interviewed by the Kansas City Star (the major newspaper in Kansas City) about the poor playing field at Arrowhead Stadium. It, according to reports, has been going downhill for several years. Something is missing when I hear bad reports from players, college coaches, visiting teams, officials and taxpayers. Still, in my book, the Chiefs have an excellent crew—and, I would strongly recommend that there are three men on that crew that would make excellent head groundskeepers at major colleges or in the NFL—but something is missing in sodding the field twice in just over a week. It does not look good when players say that they don’t mind getting tackle blocked, but, after the second sodding, they do not like it when the new sod gives way and knee injuries occur.

Remember, we must give the players a safe field for the sake of the players themselves, and for the sake of the owners who have millions of dollars invested in their players. We must do the job.

I am a 79-year-old man with 66 years in this game. I had fields that were great, and that was done with no money.

People think I give them hell. I am just like President Harry S. Truman—I just tell the truth and they think it is hell. When a field goes bad, take it like a man and correct it.

I give Tony Leonard all the credit in the world for calling me. Talking to him, I believe we now see eye to eye. I talked this over with NFL groundskeepers at the Super Bowl. I know what Tony wants and that is between Tony and me. I thank Tony for his call. And, to many others who do not see my side of it, I can only say take a number and stand in line.

In our next issue, I will talk about what happened to these fields from the viewpoint of many hours of shoptalk among the Super Bowl XLII groundskeepers.

I apologize to a couple of companies that I neglected to acknowledge earlier. Hats off to Lohmann Sports Fields of Marengo, Ill., for their great work on the renovation of the Notre Dame football game field under adverse conditions. And to Evergreen Turf of Chandler, Ariz., for their tremendous job of laying the sod on the Super Bowl XLII field. They were well prepared to tackle the job despite the tight time element. Both these companies showed their dedication to a job done right—and then some.

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.