Staff members tend to Heinz Field yesterday to prepare it for Sunday's game with Cincinnati.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The NFL, the media and even the Steelers' fans are unhappy with the mucky conditions at Heinz Field. Yet, in an informal survey of players yesterday, the Steelers overwhelmingly favored the grass -- or dirt or muck -- in their home stadium over having any kind of artificial turf installed.
And the Bog Bowl conditions in which the Steelers won a late 3-0 game against the Miami Dolphins not only drew one of the largest TV audiences on Monday Night Football this season, it attracted more fans late in the game than any other this season.
Apparently, football fans still love watching a game played in the rain and muck more than they do perfect conditions -- even if they complain about it afterward.
Game: Steelers (8-3) vs. Bengals (4-7), 8:15 p.m.
Where: Heinz Field.
The game pulled a 9.9 rating, the third-most viewed on ESPN on Monday night this year. But it did not reach its peak until the 15 minutes between 11:15 and 11:30, when it grew to an 11.2 rating. Traditionally, ESPN reaches its peak viewership on Monday nights between 9:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. They had not experienced a spike that late all year.
"It built up as the game went on," said Bill Hofheimer, director of communications for ESPN. "It was the latest any game peaked. It was such a close game, and the circumstances were unique."
Steelers president Art Rooney II said this week that one reason they try to maintain a grass field is that their players prefer it. Many of those players concurred yesterday.
"You ask any player in here, take a vote, whether they want turf or grass," declared Hines Ward, captain of the offense. "I guarantee you everybody will say grass."
Of those asked, only Willie Parker -- his nickname is Fast after all -- said he preferred artificial turf because it helps him run. When pressed, kicker Jeff Reed, who at first said he preferred grass, admitted he would rather kick on artificial turf than the gumbo that Heinz Field has become.
That was about it. Ward said the players prefer grass because they believe it is safer and gives them a competitive edge -- even when the grass nubs are worn down to dirt, mud or there's soggy sod.
"It's better than turf," Ward said. "Dirt? That's home-field advantage. We play on it, we're used to playing on it. It doesn't really bother us.
"Yes, it was yucky, it was terrible, but that turf -- Troy [Polamalu] banged his knee on the turf, Santonio [Holmes] sprained his ankle. That turf doesn't give. Once your foot, whenever it gets locked in on it, it's a wrap. Maybe on grass it slides and gives."
Even before the Bog Bowl that took place Monday night when 1.31 inches of rainfall met newly installed New Jersey sod to create a mucky mix, NFL players voted Heinz Field the worst grass surface in the league in a 2006 survey. Even the Steelers' players ranked it poorly as a home surface.
Those Steelers players, however, believe that while it may not be a great surface, it is better than artificial.
"I need the grass," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "I like the mud, I like sloppiness, I'm used to it. So Mr. Rooney, can we please keep the grass? I don't want no FieldTurf, it's bad on your knees. I'm healthy right now and I would like to stay that way."
Steelers players apparently are not swayed by their brethren on other teams. Cincinnati switched to FieldTurf in 2004, and Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said yesterday that he loves it.
"Personally, I kind of like the old school, I like the grass," Palmer said. "I like to get a uniform dirty. But from what it used to be here, our turf was always bad. I know yours up there is bad because of the situation you are in, but ours was bad all year long. ... So I like the turf better here now just because the grass was so bad. But I'd rather have a good grass field."
The Steelers don't have that, and maybe never will if they stay with grass because of all the games that are played at Heinz Field.
"I would much rather play on real grass," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "I like our field, even when it's dirt. We understand what it's like, we understand the footing.
"It's been like this since Heinz Field was built. Obviously, all this concern is because of the Monday Night monsoon. Teams come in and complain about it, but, when you come into Heinz Field, you better bring in your big-boy cleats and be ready to go."