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Monday Night Mess at Heinz Field

Once the game began, players slogged and slid in watery sprays, and punted balls landed like lawn darts, splashing down 4 inches deep into the soggy mess.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Monday Night Football turned into one of the worst turfgrass debacles in memory on Nov. 26 in Pittsburgh, resulting in historically-horrid football. But don't blame the grounds crew--a perfect storm of newly-installed turfgrass and daylong rain turned the surface into a soupy, muddy mess.

The result shows what can happen when superintendents face a combination of natural turf, an intense schedule and bad weather.

Fork lift operators lowered giant rolls onto the field, then backed up to unroll the strips of grass that were 4 feet wide, 25 feet long and weighed 1,900 pounds each. Officials said that because each strip of sod was so heavy, the new material did not have to be tied down or secured.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Grounds Team Efforts

Grounds crews worked for more than 24 hours over the weekend to roll out 21/2 acres of fresh, green sod in time for the game. The new grass was placed on top of the old playing surface, known as DD GrassMaster, which is a combination of Kentucky bluegrasses reinforced with polypropylene fibers. Much of the green grass had been worn away and the field sported patches of brown dirt that became slippery and muddy in the rain.

The ensuing game narrowly avoided becoming in the first scoreless NFL contest in 64 years. Luckily for all involved the game mercifully ended with a field goal with 17 seconds left. The final score: Steelers 3, Dolphins 0; Heinz Field, disaster.

The original field was in such bad shape was because it was subjected to seven football games in 11 days, including four high school championship playoff games Friday and a University of Pittsburgh game Saturday.

"We scalped down the grass we had, vacuumed and raked it" and put the new sod on top, said Chris Ecton, Heinz Field agronomist, at a news conference a day before the game. Under normal circumstances, they would have removed the original turf before installing the new grass. Time constraints did not allow that however.

Installation of the new sod began after the Pitt game, and continued through Saturday night and Sunday morning. More than two dozen men and at least five fork lifts and tractors worked on the field, which was completed around 9 P.M. Sunday night.

Rain Undermines Efforts

The newly laid sod looked great - until it rained. The tarp that had been spread atop the turf leaked at five seams, and because the sod was positioned over the old field, there was very little drainage. In the hours before kickoff, grounds crew members had to resort to using pitch forks to puncture holes in the surface to drain the standing water. They feverishly tried to clear rainwater, but it kept coming. Armed with rakes, workers peeled up sections of sod and started dumping Diamond-Dry, a moisture-soaking mixture.

To make matters worse, just after 8 p.m., officials cleared the field when lightning flashed, delaying the game about 15 minutes. As the players left the field, all of the freshly painted white lines were washed out- the yard markers, the goal lines, end lines and sidelines. Workers started re-chalking those at 8:15 p.m.

Once the game began, players slogged and slid in watery sprays, and punted balls landed like lawn darts, splashing down 4 inches deep into the soggy mess.

Heinz Turf Rates Low

The new sod was purchased from Tuckahoe Turf Farm, based in New Jersey with a facility in Pennsylvania. Representatives of the company said the turf would be fine for the game. The only cause for concern would be rain.

In a 2006 survey conducted by the NFL Players Association, Heinz Field's field was voted the second-worst grass playing surface in the league. Voted "worst" was New England's Gillette Stadium. Since that survey, the Patriots have torn out the grass and installed FieldTurf.

This game will most certainly prompt the Steelers, who are already investigating artificial surfaces, to look very seriously at installing one before the start of the 2008 season. They have been particularly interested in the new generation of FieldTurf called Duraspine that was installed this summer at West Virginia University. The team sent some of their people to WVU to take a look at the turf even before the debacle on Monday night.

Sources: Pittsburgh Post Gazette,

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June 18, 2019, 8:54 pm PDT

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