"I don't want to speak against turf because I understand why you have to have it," says the Bears' Mike Ditka, reciting the coach's dilemma. "[But] I don't think there's anything like lining up and playing on natural grass."
"The guy who invented it should be made to sleep on it," says Houston Oilers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville. When he was with Detroit, Glanville watched quarterbacks Bill Munson and Greg Landry go down in the Astrodome tearing up their knees. "They carted Landry off in a truck," says Glanville.
Cincinnati linebacker Reggie Williams first played on the turf in high school 12 years ago. "I realize now we were just guinea pigs," he says. In 1979 he suffered a serious knee injury "just backpedaling" on AstroTurf.
Atlanta Falcon equipment manager Whitey Zimmerman says, "Artificial turf is 'too.' " Too what? "Too everything. When it's dry, it's too dry. When it's wet, it's too wet. When it's cold, it's too cold. When it's hot, it's too hot."
"It is the biggest hoax in the history of sport," says Blyth of North Carolina.
With endorsements like that, one wonders how football could have been so blind.
Blinded might be the better word—blinded by relentless hype. To be sure, artificial turf is smoother, and lo, when it rains, the water usually does run off. But it is also harder, so hard that coach George Allen used to get tired "just standing on it." And what good is harder when clavicles fracture on routine falls and shoulders separate on routine impact?
The Redskins' Rich Milot fractured his elbow against the Patriots at New England just by falling. Against the Eagles in Philadelphia, tackle George Starke had his arm under him when he landed on the turf; he fractured two bones in his hand. "On grass, it wouldn't have been broken," says trainer Bubba Tyer.
Csonka landed with the ball under him once, "then got hit by two or three guys, and the ball was compressed into my body. I had football from chin to belly. It's a wonder the ball didn't explode. When I gave it to the referee, the skin was all twisted around. They had to throw it out of the game."
One victim of turf hardness was Kent Waldrep, the former TCU player who flipped while playing at Alabama in 1974, landed on his head and was paralyzed from the neck down. Waldrep sued American Biltrite, the manufacturer of Poly-Turf, and the contractors who had put the turf down. Last year the suit was settled out of court. Waldrep says players should be worried that "safety is not the number one priority" in football.