SI Vault
John Underwood
November 15, 1971
On AstroTurf, the wetter the slipperier. On Poly-Turf, the drier the slipperier. On Tartan Turf, don't throw cigarette butts. But the burning question is injuries
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 15, 1971

New Slant On The Mod Sod

On AstroTurf, the wetter the slipperier. On Poly-Turf, the drier the slipperier. On Tartan Turf, don't throw cigarette butts. But the burning question is injuries

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

The Detroit Lions said they hated artificial grass. "Every time we play on it we seem to get somebody hurt," said Coach Joe Schmidt. Fullback Steve Owens was lost for much of last year when he separated a shoulder in Cincinnati. "The only time I was ever hurt in college was at the Astrodome," said Owens. He said the big reason he had been drafted was his durability. "I can't block, I can't catch a pass and I'm slow," he said, reciting his scouting report, "and now I'm not even durable."

Meanwhile, the National Football League Players Association withdrew its endorsement of Poly-Turf, which, in addition to the Orange Bowl, covers the fields in New Orleans and at the new stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The NFLPA had said it was better. They had also liked it because the NFLPA collected 5� for every square foot installed.

Trips to the medicine cabinet and operating table were not the only manifestations of an expanding concern, however. Bruce Gossett, the San Francisco placekicker, was seen monkeying around with his kicking cleats, shaving and filing, because he said the ball wasn't sitting high enough (not enough support) on the artificial grass and he had to "get lower" to make proper impact. Bear Bryant, although a booster of his own AstroTurf, couldn't find a place to throw his cigarette butts when he went to Knoxville (Tartan Turf actually looks like a carpet, having crimped round fibers instead of long, flat blades, and Bryant was raised not to throw cigarette butts on a carpet). Bubble gum has to be painstakingly scraped off the fields. Mustard stains, a side effect of hot-dog wrappers fluttering down from the stands, prove almost impossible to remove. Bob Devaney of Nebraska refused to allow his school's star baton twirler to perform without a special drop cloth (her act includes three flaming batons).

An artificial grass backlash developed. Bob Short, the owner of the Senators, said he would not have artificial turf in his team's new home in Dallas. "If you can't grow grass in Texas, of all places...." he said. In Kansas City a crusade led by a draftsman named E. L. Ruble Jr. got under way to prevent the Tartaning of the new Truman Sports Complex. Ruble called it a "grass roots" campaign and if his efforts appeared quixotic his voice was soulful as he spoke of the sterility of artificial surfaces and the beauty of a memory he had of Chief Defensive End Jerry Mays walking off the field covered with mud. The Rudy-Patrick Company, which sells grass seed out of Kansas City, pitched in financially for Ruble's campaign, which included passing out bumper stickers at Chiefs games reading LET GEORGE DO IT.

George is Municipal Stadium ground-keeper George Toma, who is so highly regarded that other stadiums call him for consultations. His real grass is so gorgeous people think it's phony. In his heart, he said, he was for natural grass, but after traveling around the country he had concluded that the substitute for the high-priced spread was inevitable. (The Stanford Research Institute estimates that $1.2 billion will be spent on synthetic surfaces over the next 10 years.) "I've decided," said Toma, "that nobody cares."

Toma was wrong, somebody up there on Capitol Hill does care, and last week in Room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building a House subcommittee investigating product safety watched color slides of grotesquely blistered palms and burned elbows; linear abrasions; second-degree burns of arms, legs and hips; and purple toenails resulting from "feet trying to slide through the shoe" on high-traction synthetic turf. The slides were made at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the director of the show, Dr. Garrick himself.

Puffing on a corncob pipe, Dr. Garrick said the study he had conducted on a municipal field in Seattle indicated that half again as many time-loss injuries occurred on the AstroTurf there as on grass. Dr. Garrick did not pretend that his study was definitive, but he asked that it lead to a more detailed survey.

The subcommittee, headed by Congressman John E. Moss of California, was studying product-safety regulations as a whole. It seized on the synthetic turf issue because of its instant-attention potential. "It's football players. It's sex appeal," said one Congressman. Sure enough, the glare in Room 2123 was not from samples of artificial turf, but from TV lights.

Ed Garvey, NFLPA executive director, brought in three players ( John Wilbur, Roy Jefferson and Gus Hollomon) to speak against synthetic fields. Last Tuesday morning their testimony appeared in The Washington Post , ironically enough along side two other items. One was an account of the Monday night Green Bay- Detroit game, played in rain and on mud and, presumably, somewhere down there, a few blades of grass. The last futile pass of that game—a 14-14 tie—left the slime-slick hand of Detroit's Greg Landry and fluttered as though it had been hit by a double load into the arms of a Packer identified by Frank Gifford as Ray Nitschke. He could have said it was Ray Milland and no one would have been the wiser.

In an adjacent column was a story about George Allen, the Redskin coach, who was raging about the condition of Washington's RFK Field. How slippery, how heavy, how rundown. How it could cost the Redskins the Eastern Division championship. RFK Field is real grass.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5