If there is one aspect of sports which the NFL should have an unquestioned expertise, it should be in the maintenance of its playing surfaces. If the NBA and NHL can share stadiums and puzzle piece courts together over ice, then the NFL should be able to have the grass in pristine condition at the Super Bowl host city. For a second-consecutive season, there is a highly publicized turf problem. The San Francisco 49ers are, reportedly, not happy with their practice field.
Multiple NFL insiders reported on Monday that the field at UNLV was not up to the standards the 49ers expected. Even before the players stepped onto the field, team officials were displeased with the surface. They believed that it was too soft, it felt spongy, and put the team at a disadvantage. A possible cause of this might be that UNLV practices on field turf, so the NFL had to lay a grass surface on top, which the league did only a week ago.
At Super Bowl Opening Night, the players deferred questions about the quality of the practice field to head coach Kyle Shanahan. His response was that the team is not changing practice location and is resigned to what they have to work with for the rest of the week.
“It is what it is,” Shanahan said to the media. “We’ll be alright. It’s the field we got.”
During his Monday press conference, Roger Goodell defended the condition of the field. He said that, while the surface is softer than the 49ers are accustomed to, it was approved by experts.
Last season, the Super Bowl surface issue was the game field at State Farm Stadium. Players from both the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles were critical of it after the game when speaking to the media. Frank Clark said that it was “kind of terrible.” Jordan Mailata said “it was like a water park out there.”
A league that is pulling in nearly $20 billion in revenue every season, and sells Super Bowl tickets for thousands of dollars, is struggling with the basics. It is bad enough that MetLife Stadium swallows achilles and ACLs whole, but that is an artificial surface. As much debate as there is surrounding field turf, the NFL cannot even get natural grass right. There were complaints about the grass at Levi Stadium for Super Bowl 50, too.
The man who worked on every Super Bowl field from the first to the 57th, George Toma, spoke last year about how he has been forced to deal with more field problems in recent years than in the past. He was not about to take the blame for what happened in Glendale, Ariz. Both of his Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz interviews will sound silly to those who aren’t familiar with the show, but Toma made a strong case that the league has an institutional problem with the way that it maintains its playing surfaces. According to a Kansas City Star profile from 2018, Toma is a genius when it comes to taking care of fields, so while he rambles a bit, he does know what he is talking about.
In the words of Johnny Tapia in Bad Boys II, “This is a stupid f-cking problem to have.” Stadiums are built in the NFL with 200 luxury suites and world-class amenities, but the actual playing surfaces leave much to be desired.
The NFL has so much money that it might as well be the Federal Reserve. The dollars fly into the team owners’ pockets from customers, networks, sponsors, and more. It is the most successful product in the history of television. One would think that a business of this magnitude might be able to do the job of a park district and keep its fields in good shape. I guess that is too big of a problem even for the big brains in the owner’s boxes and on Park Avenue. Good luck to them as they try to roll grass on MetLife Stadium and other facilities for the World Cup in two years.