Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fussing Over Football Fields

The rain-soaked abomination of a football game that Pittsburgh and Miami played on Monday night has a lot of people whining over the condition of Heinz Field. Sure, the field was a mess, but on the other hand, you're playing football in late November in the northern part of the United States. What the hell do you expect?

I guess the answer is that people expect quite a bit out of football fields these days. NFL fields start out the season better manicured than Augusta National's fairways, but they definitely endure a pounding. It's just unreasonable to think that natural grass fields in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are going to be anything but painted green dirt by this time of year, and efforts to prevent that by madly resodding fields after the growing season has ended only make this worse.

Of course, weird decisions like allowing four high school games and a college game to be played on Heinz Field right before a Steelers home game contribute to the problem, but I can't help but think that the team's efforts to fuss around with that field only made things worse. Come to think of it, efforts like this usually do make things worse. Remember the mess that the Horseshoe turned into last season? The Buckeyes replaced the field twice during the 2006 season, and ultimately decided to throw in the towel and put in Field Turf.

The Browns have had more success with their natural grass field, but only because they go to heroic lengths to keep it up. Think your neighbor is a Lawn Nazi? Check out the Browns' groundskeepers.

Back in the day, teams just didn't fuss with their fields this much. Remember when it rained, and players actually got mud on their uniforms? That didn't bother me. In fact, when I was a kid, the ability to roll around in the mud without your mom yelling at you was one of the best things about playing football. Now when it rains on college or pro fields, players just get wet, not dirty. Want to know why? The invention of something called Prescription Athletic Turf back in the early 1970s. This stuff and variants on it suck the water away from the grass and the soil underneath it, and prevent the ground from getting soggy, even if you're playing in a monsoon.

I guess these improvements to the playing fields are a good thing from the perspective of player safety, but I really do miss the mud. Besides that, I just think teams have gotten to the point where they've lost their perspective. Sure, you want a safe field for the guys you've invested millions of dollars in to play on, but you shouldn't aim to have a PGA Tour fairway to play on in Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Chicago in December. It just ain't gonna happen, and if you want it to, you're better off putting in Field Turf than trying to resod dead fields in December or January.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems to me that two things in sports that just aren't as tough as they used to be are pitchers' arms and football playing fields. Then again, maybe it's just that teams obsess about these things a lot more than they once did. In any event, crotchety old man that I am, I liked things better the way they used to be. A little painted green dirt never hurt anybody.


Erik said...

True, in this age of FieldTurf, people make way too much of a fuss over the condition of football fields.

But Heinz Field is an extreme case. Ever since that stadium opened, it has consistently had one of the worst playing surfaces in football. I realize much of that is due to the fact that high school football games and Pitt games also take place there, but even in usually-good September weather, Heinz Field's playing surface is a mucky mess.

Maybe they need to invest in hardier grass that takes root more deeply and can't be torn up so easily. Or maybe artifical turf is the answer. Considering that the stadium is often used Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during football season, maybe FieldTurf is the way to go.

It sure as heck has to be better than placing new sod on top of old grass, followed by a rainstorm that turns Heinz Field into a swamp for a nationally-televised Steelers game.

If nothing else, it makes for a bad on-field product. No one wanted to see the Steelers and Dolphins battle to a scoreless tie for more than 59 minutes.

Hornless Rhino said...

I think Field Turf is probably going to be the answer for the Steelers. Pitt has been on their back to sign off on it, and apparently this little disaster has prompted them to rethink their opposition to it.

The biggest problem Heinz Field has is that it just gets too much play. The Steelers and Pitt use it as a home field, and then you've got the high school playoffs. I mean, if that's not a recipe for a worn out field, nothing is.

The team that I coach played all but one of its games this season on Field Turf, and aside from the fact that the ground up tires get into your shoes, it's just a terrific surface to play on.

I still miss the mud, though.