Turf topper: Heinz Field surface sporting new temporary sod

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Grounds crews at Heinz Field worked for more than 24 hours over the weekend to roll out 21/2 acres of fresh, green sod in time for tonight's Steelers-Dolphins 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.

"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 yesterday.

Heinz Field was subjected to seven football games in 11 days, said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of Heinz Field. That included four high school playoff games Friday and a University of Pittsburgh game Saturday.

Installation of the new sod began after the Pitt game, continued through Saturday night and yesterday morning, and was not expected to be completed until last night.

More than two dozen men and at least five fork lifts and tractors were working on the field yesterday during an 11 a.m. Steelers news conference.

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. Men with rakes and hoes shoved the strips closer together and trimmed the edges.

Because each strip of sod is so heavy, the new material will not have to be tied down or secured and the feet and bodies of football players should not be able to displace the grass, Mr. Sacco said.

Seams in the sod will not present a problem, Mr. Ecton said.

"It will be really hard to pick them out after we are done working," he said.

"We are exploring every way possible to provide a good field for both teams. We do like a natural playing surface," he said, when reporters asked if team owners are considering replacing the real grass with synthetic grass.

The new sod is expected to remain in place for three remaining home games and playoff games. Pitt played its last home game Saturday so the Steelers will be the only team using the field the rest of this season.

Mr. Sacco said the team is "still tallying" the cost of installing the new surface.

"Cost is not a factor," he said. "It's about providing a good field for both teams."

Heinz Field opened in 2001 with real grass, after the Steelers had played for 31 seasons on artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium. In the second season "we resodded the middle of the field," Mr. Sacco said.

The sod was purchased from Tuckahoe Turf Farms in upstate Pennsylvania, he said.

Weather forecasters were predicting rain last night and throughout today. Mr. Sacco would not comment on what effect rain might have on the new surface other than to suggest that fans pray for good weather.

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 an artificial surface known as FieldTurf.

Of the 48 Steelers polled in the 2006 survey, 25 rated Heinz Field's surface as "poor" and 16 as "fair." Seven Steelers gave their home field a "good" rating; none said it was "excellent."

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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