Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dirty Talk About Heinz Turf

Well, there's a lot to be said about the Monday mud bath in Pittsburgh last night, and trust me, a lot is being said. And as you can imagine, most of the conversation is negative concerning the field conditions. Comments about artificial turf needing to be installed at Heinz Field are falling out of sports media mouths everywhere. Hang in there, Pittsburgh, and keep your grass field. (Insert Ricky Williams joke here.) Sometimes I get the feeling there are some people who would like to see football everywhere played in nice dry, room-temperature domes where no outside factors can affect the games. Next, those same people may protest to outlaw fans from games, so that crowd noise plays no role in who wins. Maybe I'm being too dramatic. Forget all that for now. Monday night's game was great if you love the occasional bad weather game. There was a little of everything last night ranging from lightning strikes that delayed kickoff and scrapped the National Anthem to new sod being mucked up to washed-off yard markers to a punt sticking a perfect landing (see video below).

Here's what some media folks are saying about the game, which nearly everyone is dubbing "Muddy Night Football."

Associated Press

For 591/2 scoreless minutes, the Dolphins and Steelers slipped and slid on swampland masquerading as an NFL playing field, stuck so deep in the messy muck that neither team managed much yardage, much less any scoring.

The Steelers couldn't have picked a worse time to lay down new turf. After five high school and college games were played at Heinz Field last weekend, crews hurriedly put down a new layer of sod atop the chewed-up grass in time for Monday night's game.

Because the rain fell so heavily most of the day, the water seeped between the seams of the protective tarps, resulting in huge puddles, soft spots and sinkholes.

Late in the third quarter, Brandon Fields' punt from near the Miami goal line came straight down and plugged in the soggy turf like an arrow, burying itself several inches deep.

Jim Corbett, USA TODAY

There was lots of rain, wind and mud followed by intermittent splashes of sloppy play, punts that plugged in puddles and, until the final 17 seconds, no scoring. Nada.

There was even a lightning delay as kickoff for Monday night's Miami Dolphins-Pittsburgh Steelers game was pushed back 25 minutes.

What followed was a messy exhibition of late November football played on soupy Heinz Field that had been resodded during Thanksgiving weekend.

Most of the yardage lines were wiped away during the game's opening series as the game at times resembled mud sliding in helmets and shoulder pads. Changing direction and scoring posed a difficult challenge. But not impossible.

John Clayton, ESPN

The city that brought you the Terrible Towel now has the Terrible Field.

The playing surface has been a problem brewing at Heinz Field for years, and it may force the Steelers to go to artificial or field turf in 2008.

The situation was hopeless. Because the sod was positioned over the old field, there was no drainage. Grounds crew members had to resort to using pitch forks to puncture holes in the surface to drain the standing water. On top of that, a flash of lightning sent both teams to the locker rooms, delaying the game for 15 minutes.

(Hines) Ward kept reminding his receivers not to worry about yards after the catch, just worry about the catch. Ward made nine sure-handed receptions for 88 yards, including three catches for 38 yards on the game-winning drive.

Ward said most of Pittsburgh's players don't want the organization to go to artificial turf. The Rooneys want Heinz Field to be natural. On Monday night, it was a natural disaster. Seeing two TV shots of punted balls landing in the mud and sticking there might convince the Rooneys to take the natural feel away from Heinz in 2008.


The Pittsburgh Steelers own one of the NFL's greatest home field advantages at Heinz Field, where winds howling off the three rivers torment opposing kickers and fans stomping on the upper-deck bleachers create a disruptive din.

The weather looked more reminiscent of Miami than Pittsburgh, with the rain so heavy at times that it resembled that which fell during the Steelers' 13-3 win at Miami on Sept. 26, 2004. That game, which featured Ben Roethlisberger's debut as the Steelers quarterback, was pushed back to a nighttime start after Hurricane Jeanne struck south Florida earlier that day.

Across the state, the Philadelphia Eagles are experiencing the same problem at Lincoln Financial Field, which they share with Temple. New sod will be laid there before the Eagles' Sunday home game against Seattle.
Like the Steelers, the Eagles are putting down turf they believe is sturdy and heavy enough to last the rest of the season.
The Steelers' old surface was beginning to raise the ire of opponents. Several Cleveland players called it the NFL's worst following the Browns' 31-28 loss on Nov. 11.

An NFL players survey last year ranked the Patriots' Gillette Stadium and Heinz Field as the two worst playing fields. The Patriots subsequently yanked up the grass and put down grass-like artificial turf.

However, Steelers owner Dan Rooney has long favoured grass, believing it causes fewer injuries. Several former Steelers stars experienced career-altering injuries on Three Rivers Stadium's artificial turf, including Rod Woodson and Jack Lambert.
Rooney isn't alone in his thinking. A majority of colder-weather NFL teams with open-air stadiums still play on grass: the Browns, Broncos, Chiefs, Bears, Packers, Eagles, Redskins and Steelers.

So do the Titans and Panthers, who play in cities where the late-season weather is cold to moderate.

The latest field fiasco apparently has the Steelers rethinking their grass-only policy. They already practise regularly on Field Turf in their indoor practice building.

Some in Pittsburgh wonder if a different type of grass surface or altered maintenance might help the Steelers keep grass and avoid a switch to artificial turf.

When Pitt's players arrived at Heinz Field for their spring game in April 2006, they were surprised to find the field markings and paint remained from the Steelers' final home game Jan. 1 - suggesting little had been done to the turf since then. Two blocks down the street at the Pirates' PNC Park, there was a lush grass surface.

(Wow, I should have posted Robinson's entire article. That was good stuff.)

Scott Brown Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Mike Tomlin said the Steelers will keep their options open in regard to installing artificial turf at Heinz Field after the season.

But, Tomlin added, there is nothing the Steelers can do about the field this season and so it is not a major concern.

Jeff Darlington, Miami Herald

It was ugly and sloppy and dirty and unpredictably bad, an imperfect mess that only added more depression to this perfectly imperfect season.

And that only describes the Dolphins' offense Monday.

In a game that could soon go down as the most symbolic loss of this memorably disastrous year, Miami fell to the Steelers 3-0 in a prime-time mudfest that didn't fade into failure until Pittsburgh booted a game-winning field goal with 17 seconds remaining.

KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh talked with fans about their thoughts concerning last night's game and playing conditions. Here's the link.

Player Quotes

Hines Ward - "Those conditions, whew, they were horrendous. The footing was bad, all of a sudden you'd hit a water puddle and sink down. Some of defensive backs were scared about falling down and giving up a big play."

Dolphins kicker Jay Feely - "From the 25 to the 35 (yard lines), you just could not kick. They were the worst conditions that I ever kicked in while in the NFL."

Ben Roethlisberger - "This is one of the worst conditions I've ever played in. The field was ridiculous. I'm proud of my guys."

Jason Taylor - "The Patriots' field was pretty bad a couple of years before they put the new turf in. This one was probably the worst I've seen in this league."

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