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
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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

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For every set of statistics that show injuries up, there is another that shows them down. On the same Astrodome field on which the University of Houston has had only one operative knee or ankle injury in 5� years, the Houston Oilers had a number in 1970 alone. For every football player who says he does not like artificial turf, there is a Virgil Carter who does. Carter, the Cincinnati quarterback, says the ball does not take as much of a beating on it. And for every athlete who does not want to play on something horses can't eat ( Richie Allen, most notably), there is an athletic director (Jim Barratt of Oregon State) who thinks grass should not be used for anything except horse feed.

Most coaches who complain about it, says Texas' Darrell Royal, are the ones who don't have it. Texas has it. Texas loves it. Texas doesn't play a game off it until late 1972. Paul Brown of Cincinnati says it was time to consider the fact that municipally owned stadiums are also built with economics in mind (greater land use, easier maintenance) and "the surface is their business, not ours." Hank Stram of Kansas City likes it. "Players would get hurt even if we played on marshmallows," he says.

One thing that can be said for sure about Poly-Turf is that it's marshmallowy. A Miami TV station believed the claim that you could drop an egg 10 feet to the surface of the Orange Bowl without breaking it. A camera crew and a ladder were rounded up and pictures taken of eggs being dropped. Only when a crane took the demonstrator up 25 feet did an egg splatter.

The Miami-Poly-Turf situation is a 14-month marriage that is presently on the rocks. Miami has stopped payments (after No. 12 of 48 in the payment book) until American Biltrite makes good the wedding vows. How the two ever got together in the first place was confounding, Miami being green year round, but the truth was that the Orange Bowl was having trouble keeping its grass. Too much traffic and too little foresight. The story going around is that when a superintendent who was not a Florida native was hired a few years ago, one of the first things he did before learning the vagaries of Miami grass care was to rip it all up and put in a sprinkler system. The new grass did not take root.

A committee of tenants (including the Dolphins) called together by the mayor demanded a shotgun wedding: synthetic turf or else. City Manager Melvin Reese asked for a year to study the various synthetics. One of the fields where the investigating team studied Poly-Turf was in Wichita, Kans., under eight inches of snow. The snow was scraped off the field so the team could see how beautifully Poly-Turf holds up. Presumably, if there is ever eight inches of snow in Miami, the Poly-Turf will hold up.

Poly-Turf was the committee's choice because it was springier and because it was cheaper (at $153,000, it was less than half as much as either Tartan Turf or AstroTurf). At a cocktail party following the wedding, a beaming American Biltrite executive told Miami Herald sportswriter Luther Evans that from now on "this [the Orange Bowl] is our showcase. We'll put in a new field every year if we have to."

They may have to. The Miami air, chock full of all that ultraviolet and ozone, apparently is too much for Poly-Turf. Miami maintenance crews have faithfully followed the company instruction booklets, said Director of Public Property Andrew Crouch. When unusual problems arose, they called Boston. They scrubbed with the proper solvent, vacuumed in the right direction, rotated every 1,000 miles. When they decorated midfield for January's Super Bowl, they asked Boston for the proper paint, and then the proper paint remover. They applied the remover. It didn't remove. They reapplied it three times. In June the paint was gone.

By September it was evident that the sun was killing the phony grass. It had turned blue. It was on its side. When the carnival of slips began with the Jet-Dolphin game, Reese called for an official investigation. American Biltrite sent a man named Love to direct a refurbishing program that included a scrubbing apparatus composed of 16 eight-inch nylon brushes nailed to a frame and pulled behind a small tractor, like a harrow. The workers called it The Love Machine.

Players from the University of Miami and local high schools, who play at night, did not slip. It was clearly a heat-of-the-day problem. After the slipshod game against the Patriots, the Poly-Turf crews went to work in renewed earnest, sometimes 25 at a time, scrubbing, rubbing, vacuuming, raking, brushing and steam-cleaning. Last week the field seemed to be making a comeback. One thing that was coming back was the Super Bowl decoration at midfield. And now the Super Bowl is in New Orleans.

In last Sunday's game with Buffalo, there wasn't a single slip, a state of affairs attributable to a heavy watering down of the field and improved footgear. Nonetheless, Reese has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. If Don Shula and the rest still say it's an ice rink, he will insist on "some very drastic moves." He declined to say what those moves would be. The manufacturers say they have given "no thought" to replacing the field, but Reese, who drove the hard bargain in the first place, has the paper in hand to make them.

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