Sunday night’s NFL Hall of Fame preseason football game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts was canceled prior to kickoff because of poor field conditions on the artificial turf at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
ESPN reported that both Colts and Packers players and coaches were worried about safety issues on the turf — specifically about the field paint used on the midfield logos and end zones — at the 22,375-seat Canton, Ohio venue (formerly known as Fawcett Stadium).
The playing surface is UBU Sports’ Speed Series-S5-M artificial turf and was installed earlier this summer. It is the relocated field from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans (home of the Saints), according to a press release posted on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s website on June 7. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium underwent Phase One of an $80 million renovation this offseason and this turf was installed for the sole purpose of hosting this game, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Phase Two of the renovation, according to the newspaper, was scheduled to start the week of August 8 and part of that work consists of tearing off this turf and installing a new, permanent surface.
Multiple sources told ESPN on Sunday night that both the Packers and Colts expressed specific concerns about safety as the field crew worked to spray solvent on the area around the midfield logo, as the safety concerns stemmed from the paint used on this logo as well as the end zones. In other areas, particularly where letters were piped in red, the paint essentially melted on the artificial grass blades and rubber infill, resulting in a “gooey” mixture that could have caused cleats to stick into the ground, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
One Packers player told ESPN about 90 minutes prior to the 8 p.m. EST kickoff that it was like “cement” at midfield and that the end zones were “just as bad.” A Colts player told the network that “the paint on the (midfield) logo won’t allow a cleat to penetrate it… a definite hazard to player safety.”
The NFL and the NFL Players Association released a joint statement Sunday night at 8 p.m. that read, “Due to safety concerns with the condition of the playing surface in Canton, tonight’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers has been canceled. We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight.”
CBS NFL reporter Jason La Canfora tweeted Sunday night that, “One exec w/team in Canton called cancelation ‘a no brainer for player safety … The 90th man (on roster) deserves it as much as the 1st.’ ”
The stadium’s turf was covered over the course of the two previous days, for a Tim McGraw concert on Friday and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday. Workers began removing the covering immediately after the induction ceremony Saturday night, in preparation for Sunday’s game.
“I was notified at about 5:30 that there was a problem at midfield and in the end zones with some of the painting that it was kind of congealing and rubberized, which meant players might slip on it,” Pro Football Hall of Fame Executive Director David Baker told NFL Media’s Steve Wyche. “The folks with the field tried to remediate that by dropping some other pellets but after talking to the coaches and staff for both the Packers and the Colts, there was a concern they might be able to remediate it but they would have to do something underneath the surface … if there’s any concern, anything in the minds of players, and there was for the Packers and Colts, we want to err on the side of player safety.”
Baker added in his interview with NFL Media: “It was a difficult decision to make… But in some respects, it was an easy, ethical decision. I had a son that played in the league for seven years himself (former Falcons offensive lineman Sam Baker), and if he was on a field like this today I’d want someone to make the same decision.”
Baker also told NFL media that “when the field was put down… it passed the safety test. Today… when the cover was taken off, it passed the safety test then (too). The concerns were really about the painting (of the midfield logo) and the rubberized surface. We talked to the league, which has been great in this situation … and we’re confident — I’m confident — that [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] would be encouraging us to make the same decision today.”
UBU Sports recently supplied the artificial turf for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings. This turf at U.S. Bank Stadium— Speed Series-S5-M — is the same variety found at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
The Vikings are the fifth NFL team to use a UBU Sports playing surface, joining the New York Giants, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints. In total, 14 NFL teams practice and/or play their home games on a UBU Sports surface.
Prior to the installation of the UBU artificial turf, Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium featured FieldTurf (installed in 2004), also an artificial surface. In last season’s HOF game, Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham tore his ACL while trying to make a tackle on a field that had been previously criticized on several occasions for its poor condition.
The cancelation of the game solicited several social media reactions from those in the sports turf industry:
“The #HOFGame cancellation is a shame. But that’s another reason why the game should played on natural grass. #GrassCanTakeMore” ~ Tyler Lenz (Groundskeeper for Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods) @T_LenzTurf
“I don’t know everything, but [ESPN commentator and former NFL coach Jon Gruden] saying ‘when you overuse a field there is potential for disaster’ is what turf guys say daily.” ~ Weston Floyd (Turf manager for the University of Texas) @burntorangeAG05
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium plays host to various high school and college football games, along with the annual HOF game. Presently, it’s the home field for the McKinley High School football team and two Canton-area colleges, Walsh University and Malone University. In 2002, the Sporting News rated Benson Stadium the number one high school football venue in America.