Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: Turf at Heinz Field gains reputation as worst in NFL

Time for holidays, another playoff run and the annual complaint-fest about the grass


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Congratulations to the eight WPIAL football semifinalists who have worked their way through the playoffs and will play in the four high school championship games Friday.

After playing on some of the best football fields Western Pennsylvania has to offer during your playoff drive, now you get to play on one of the worst -- Heinz Field.

Many high schools throughout the WPIAL have converted their fields to artificial turf, mostly FieldTurf. Every playoff game from the quarterfinals on, in fact, has been played on that surface.

Yet in their most important game of all, the championship, they will play in the muck/dirt at Heinz Field. The playing surface there is DD GrassMaster, described as a combination of Kentucky bluegrasses, reinforced with polypropylene fibers that are sewn vertically into the sod every  3/4 of an inch.

The fibers may be there somewhere, but good luck finding that Kentucky bluegrass. And if there is any left before Friday's four WPIAL championship games are played there and Pitt plays on Saturday, it should be gone for the Steelers' Monday night game against Miami. Get out the green paint, fellas.

In the most recent playing surface survey of its membership conducted by the NFL Players Association in 2006, Heinz Field was voted the second-worst grass playing surface in the league, right after New England's Gillette Stadium. But since that survey, the Patriots tore out their grass and installed FieldTurf.

That means the players now consider Heinz the worst grass field in the league. Even their own players judged it the worst. Of the 48 Steelers players polled in the survey, 25 of them rated Heinz Field as "poor" and 16 as "fair". Only seven rated it "good" and none "excellent.''

It's a good bet that a back such as Willie Parker, who depends on his speed, quickness and cutting ability, was not among the seven Steelers who rated Heinz Field's surface as "good.'' Parker was slipping all over it in his most recent game there last Sunday.

It's time for a change. The Steelers should follow the path of most every other team that plays its home games in the Northeast and install the latest breed of artificial turf.

The Rooneys, I believe, had their players' best interests in mind when they installed grass at Heinz Field when it opened in 2001. In survey after survey, the players have -- and still -- say they prefer grass fields to artificial surfaces. And, especially after playing on the old-style artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium for 31 seasons, the Steelers wanted to try grass.

It was a noble idea, but one that has proven a failure. Yes, in the old days NFL teams played on fields where grass had given way to muck, and on the dirt infields and pitcher's mounds in such baseball parks as Forbes Field, Yankee Stadium and Cleveland Stadium.

But these aren't the old days. They've developed artificial surfaces that look like grass, give like grass, and are no more detrimental to the health of players than real grass. The Steelers can get a close-up view of such a surface today at Giants Stadium, where the latest version of FieldTurf was installed, the same surface New England installed mid-season last year.

An artificial playing surface also would permit more events at Heinz Field -- concerts, soccer, band competitions, small-college doubleheaders, etc.

The Steelers gave grass a chance, and in its seventh season, it's time to put it out to pasture.

Did referee see it or not?

If baseball goes to a replay system, perhaps that sport too can experience the kind of call that occurred last Sunday in Heinz Field.

Cleveland's Braylon Edwards caught a pass in the end zone and dragged his feet along the right sideline as he did so. Officials ruled an incompletion because he did not get both feet inbounds.

Browns coach Romeo Crennel challenged the call, and referee Ron Winter overturned it and gave Edwards a touchdown.

According to NFL rules, the referee must see "indisputable visual evidence" before he can overturn a call on the field. There's no way Winter saw that in Edwards' catch. TV made a big deal out of showing a "divot" from Edwards that allegedly proved he had both feet inbounds. It was one divot and, when I saw it, I thought part of it was on the white line and thus out of bounds.

Mike Tomlin agreed.

"I'm still not certain he got both feet down,'' Tomlin said.

I don't think Winter is sure, either. Sometimes officials call what they think they see in instant replay, a system which should be scrapped but instead is infecting other sports.

Good NFL quarterback becoming rare breed

The state of NFL quarterbacks has never fluctuated so much as it has this season. If Charlie Batch weren't the backup to Ben Roethlisberger, he could start for half the teams in the league.

Quick, name the current starting quarterbacks in Miami, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Houston, Oakland, New York Jets, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, Chicago, Minnesota and Arizona.

This week alone, there were stories about coaches possibly switching starting quarterbacks this week in Minnesota (Tarvaris Jackson from Brooks Bollinger), Baltimore (Kyle Boller from Steve McNair), Kansas City (Brodie Croyle from Damon Huard), Jacksonville (back to previously injured David Garrard from Quinn Gray), Buffalo (back to J.P. Losman from Trent Edwards), Miami (rookie John Beck from Cleo Lemon) and Chicago (back to Rex Grossman after Brian Griese).

Either the NFL cannot find good quarterbacks, can't develop them, loses patience in them quickly or can't keep them healthy.

Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox should be regulars in this league somewhere.



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